Seven years ago, the American apparel company PVH decided to invest in preserving and protecting its 140-year history by establishing PVH Archives, a company-wide effort to rehouse historic designs, campaigns and other materials from the company’s brands, including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.
Officially launching in 2017, the archive is located in Long Island City in a 22,000 square foot space where all items within the archive are meticulously catalogued, barcoded and stored. Global creative teams have easy access for research via the digital archives. While a primary focus is on supporting product development, the company utilises the archives to educate and inspire all 40,000 of their associates through content, such as installations, that travel to different corporate locations — across Asia, Europe and America. There is also programming to support onboarding for new associates, designed in partnership with HR teams and PVH University.
A team of archivists and fashion historians, with backgrounds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Fashion Institute of Technology, represent and work with each brand within the archive, further enabling opportunities for content and education tapping into the brands’ corporate and creative histories. Indeed, while Covid-19 stalled PVH’s intentions to share the archive with members of the public, the apparel company works with fashion schools, museums and others to share its resources where it can.
Now, BoF sits down with PVH’s VP of Communications, Lauren McClain, to learn how and why PVH is leveraging its historic archive — and how looking back to the archive is helping the company drive fashion forward.
Why did PVH decide to build out its archive 7 years ago?
We realised there was an opportunity to not only build a resource for designers and creative teams, but also capture the corporate culture and brands’ legacies. Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger had done an amazing job at saving their collections over the years, pretty much from the inception of their brands. But their archives sat in offices in New York, viewed almost like a fashion closet, without full accountability for it. On the Heritage Brands’ side, over 140 years of their histories were acquired through the years, and we were fortunate that these brands, like Van Heusen, Warner’s, IZOD, had saved quite a lot of materials — especially marketing and advertising.
If you work for a company, whether in a creative capacity or otherwise, you want to make sure the work you do is being preserved. That’s not always the case if you have limited space and bandwidth. There is much to learn from the past, beyond fashion inspiration. We also work with our corporate functions to align on historic initiatives across inclusion and diversity, human resources and corporate responsibility. It is important to keep creating that awareness, so people understand where we came from, and in many cases it connects to the present and future.
How do the design teams access the archive?
If they are in the New York City area, they can set up a visit to Long Island City and their archivist will work with them. However, we also built digital archives where there is a record of the majority of our assets. It’s like an e-commerce shopping experience — they search what they’re after, create a collection and request for it to be sent to them.
We have a loans process so, if you’re a designer and you want to borrow 100 pieces, items can be packaged and sent out to you. There is then accountability for it being returned in good condition so other people can reference it. It’s an important product development component for designers, to help them be inspired by their brand’s history.
The digital function […] has been critical during the pandemic. It’s our job to make sure the designers and creatives are getting what they need to do their job.
While the pandemic has changed the way everyone works, we are a global company and we have design teams across the world, from Amsterdam to Asia. So, we always had to think from a remote point of view when setting up the archive. That’s why the digital function was such a huge part of our build and it has been critical during the pandemic. It’s our job to make sure the designers and creatives are getting what they need to do their job.
How do you leverage the archive for onboarding?
There is value in bringing the archive to all employees, making sure that our 40,000 associates can feel connected to our history. Early on, we partnered with our team that oversees onboarding to develop ways to incorporate that history in an engaging way. We set up quarterly tours where anyone in the company could sign up to visit the facility, and our team would take them through the entire archive. Associates from design to IT to finance have the opportunity to flex that. Post-Covid, we look forward to being able to pick that back up.
In collaboration with PVH University, we created a PVH Archives 101 course, which was previously in-person and really well-received. It took our associates through an abridged version of our brands’ histories. We’re looking to shift that digitally this year.
We also engage with our associates through installations. Our first looked back at over 100 years of fashion and change, to educate associates on the company’s history of innovation, diversity and corporate responsibility efforts, education efforts — really connecting all the functions of our business. We followed that up with an installation around our core values in Amsterdam. It’s a critical part of the work that we do, to bring these stories to life in a compelling way.
Who manages the archive?
We have a dedicated team of experts in cataloguing, preserving and curating our brand and corporate history. They, along with a team of archive consultants, spent two years cataloguing the collection of materials and building it out. Every item is documented and searchable digitally, allowing for easy access. In addition to the operations behind keeping up an archive, they work with associates to help them with their research and partner on brand and corporate initiatives.
There is value in bringing the archive to all employees, making sure that our 40,000 associates can feel connected to our history.
PVH Archives sits within PVH communications because it is an incredible source for storytelling and engagement. While the designers are looking ahead at future collections, we work on content that’s relevant for now, and try to figure out how we can bring stories to life and merge that past story with the present.
What does the Long Island City facility offer?
We partnered with UOVO, a state-of-the-art storage facility who specialise in art handling and fashion. Everything is climate-controlled, with safety protocols, and they have an entire staff dedicated to just the handling of the materials as they come in and out.
We have a 22,000-square-foot space there with dedicated space for Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and our Heritage Brands. We have an Inspiration Library, which is like one big vintage shop, and a multi-purpose Viewing Room where we’ve had photoshoots, meetings, and installations. We wanted to create a space where teams can come and spend up to a whole day there if they wanted, to be inspired and get their work done.
What future plans do you have for the archive?
We are shifting to more digital-first initiatives, especially with our installations that were in-person. We will continue to create strong partnerships within museum and academic institutions — a natural extension onto our current organic partnerships— so continuing to stay on their radar and building that network. Supporting the fashion industry is so important and we want to explore opening the archive to fashion students and emerging designers. There’s a lot of opportunity.
This is a sponsored feature paid for by PVH Corp. as part of a BoF partnership.