“Fashion is one of our most significant cultural artefacts,“ says Elise By Olsen as the International Library of Fashion Research opens in Oslo with an exhibition dedicated to the oft-overlooked press release
Elise By Olsen has established herself as something of a wunderkind in the fashion industry, having been nominated for a Guinness World Record as the youngest editor-in-chief in the world when she founded Recens Paper at the tender age of 13. Ten years on – after numerous endeavours that have included Wallet magazine and a guest edit of AnOthermag.com back in 2019 – By Olsen has now opened a library to the public. Situated in Oslo’s former west railway station, a short walk across the courtyard of the newly opened National Museum of Norway, lies the International Library of Fashion Research; a space that wants to become “the world’s most comprehensive repository of specialised fashion research and contemporary fashion publications.“
The library has launched with an exhibition, For Immediate Release: The Art of the Press Release, which hosts a selection of rare fashion press releases and promotional text, and is co-curated by By Olsen and California-based curator and critic Jeppe Ugelvig. “Fashion is one of our most significant cultural artefacts – an expression of our values and fascinations, and an impression of a moment in time with social, political, and economic dimensions,” By Olsen tells AnOther. “Yet because much of its printed matter is created for commercial or informal ends, it rarely receives the thorough study it deserves.”
It was through this impetus that By Olsen decided to open her own library, cultivating and hosting a treasure trove of printed matter – magazines, photo books, lookbooks, and much more, dating from the 1970s to today. Most of the library’s collection was gifted by her mentor Steven Mark Klein (also known as Steve Oklyn) who passed away in Manhattan last year, where he worked as a cultural theorist and fashion archivist, cultivating a rich archive from his 70 years.
These materials included the humble press release. Distilling the essence of a fashion collection in words is a necessary labour – a study of meaning to translate textile into prose, clarifying the complicated art of high fashion design for press and consumers alike. Focusing on 14 fashion practitioners, the exhibition traces press releases for designers including Alessandro Michele, Dries Van Noten, Virgil Abloh and Walter Van Beirendonck, penned by the likes of Mahoro Seward, Laura Gardner, Patrick Scallon and Nikolaas Verstraeten.
“The evolution of the press release has changed dramatically over time, also with the distribution and dissemination of it. Our oldest piece in the collection is a press release T-shirt by Vivienne Westwood from 1978, through to Mowalola’s press release PDF from S/S23,” says By Olsen. “Fashion has gradually become very prone to the language of conceptual art, at times over-explaining, over-conceptualising itself. Fashion language was previously a lot more experimental, as seen in our exhibition too.”
The shift is reflective of culture, too. Dating from a pre-smartphone era without PDFs and social media, the ease and speed of sourcing information has drastically changed, but By Olsen (who has previously listed her favourite fashion publications for us) is steadfast in her devotion to print. “Printed matter in general is tangible, collectible, and sensible; an antidote to the fast-paced media cycles of the present,” she says. The library and its exhibitions are also spaces that provide something a website can’t offer: an experience. “In the Library, where we have had lots of young students grappling with the material, they are incredibly interested in stories and memories from the past, as a way of creating the future.”
For Immediate Release: The Art of the Press Release is on at The International Library of Fashion Research in Oslo until 1 March 2023.