The presence of the archival fashion account on Instagram has grown along with the ubiquity of the social media platform itself, forming the basis of moodboards and reference points for many. Instagram has become a go-to source for looking back at the likes of Tom Ford’s erotically charged Gucci, Galliano’s groundbreaking work at Dior, or the subtle eccentricities of 1990s Maison Martin Margiela. And it’s thanks to the individuals behind these accounts – assiduously uploading both iconic and obscure relics of fashion history to share with the world – that at the swift tap of a finger, we have access to such a library of information.
When we stumbled across Unforgettable Runway, at first glance, it seemed no different from any other artfully curated online fashion scrapbook. That was until we spoke with the owner, Ilius Ahmed, who has an unexpected story to tell about the glorious imagery and grainy VHS clips that had started appearing on a daily basis over the past month. Firstly, contrary to many of his online peers, all of the material featured belongs to Ahmed himself. Some of the photographs were even taken firsthand at the shows he personally attended in the 90s and late 00s.
From Givenchy’s Autumn 1996 haute couture collection and Christian Lacroix’s for Spring 2003, to snaps of Kate Moss and Natalia Vodianova captured on a film camera between the heads of audience members – and the designers themselves, Julien Macdonald’s warm reception during a finale, or Lacroix deep in conversation backstage – the collection offers a glimpse into what it was like to attend these iconic shows before the saturation of digital media. “There was no-one at the shows with mobiles or iPads, or anything like that. It was all very much about clapping and standing ovations rather than taking a picture. Now it’s all digital – a row of people with iPads in the air,” Ahmed says.
“There was no-one at the shows with mobiles or iPads, or anything like that. It was all very much about clapping and standing ovations rather than taking a picture. Now it’s all digital – a row of people with iPads in the air” - Ilius Ahmed
Secondly, one would automatically assume that Ahmed was an industry insider – a buyer perhaps, or a magazine editor. For who else could possibly gain access to such rare pieces of sartorial history? Our presumptions were wrong, however; the owner of Unforgettable Runway was simply a young boy from Coventry.
“It started when was eight and I was watching a fashion programme – and I remember really distinctly, I was watching an Yves Saint Laurent show,” he explains. “I remember all the clothes, and the colours of the fabrics. I knew then I was intrigued by fashion. It kind of planted its seed in my mind that that’s what I wanted to do. Then while I was at secondary school, I was really bored because they never taught fashion or art or anything as such. So I found a course at the local college – and I was only 15 – and I lied about my age and I enrolled on it, saying I was a school leaver. My older brother used to write me a sick note, one day a week from school, and I used to go to college in my school uniform and get dressed in the toilets and do this Pattern Cutting course.”
A teenage Ahmed then began writing to the fashion houses he was so enamoured with, receiving replies from the likes of Gianni Versace – who was so impressed with his sketches he offered him a job, although unfortunately he was too young to take up the position – and developing long-standing relationships with the PRs and designers working there. Alongside letters, he would also receive London show invites, catalogues, press packs and VHS tapes of collections, all of which form the basis of the extensive archive he shares on Instagram today. “I got offered a place at Central Saint Martins MA Fashion when Louise Wilson was there. She looked at my archive, because I took elements of it with my portfolio, and I remember her clearly being really shocked when she saw it. ‘Where have you got all this from?!’ she said to me. ‘Hold onto it, because it’s going to be worth something.’”
“I remember [Louise Wilson] clearly being really shocked when she saw [my archive]. ‘Where have you got all this from?!’ she said to me. ‘Hold onto it, because it’s going to be worth something’” – Ilius Ahmed
Ahmed, however, has no interest in selling any of it. His collection is highly personal, and has been amassed over 20 years; some of the ephemera in his possession is held, otherwise, only by notoriously private haute couture clients. It is all housed in his loft space in Coventry. He never took up his Saint Martins offer either, studying instead on a masters course closer to home before breaking away from working in fashion entirely.
Yet, in 2017, the account is attracting the attention of ex-supermodels such as Carla Bruni, who directly contacted Unforgettable Runway to obtain and re-post footage of herself walking in a Gianni Versace show (footage she hadn’t seen since actually taking part in the show in 1992), museum collectors and industry influencers including Alexander Fury. And it’s easy to see why, for such an endearing back-story, combined with an unprecedented glimpse into an era before iPhones became those second pairs of eyes on the front row, makes for something very special indeed.