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Inside the Closet of Tom Ford’s Archivist

Julie Ann Clauss’ personal collection pays homage to Yves Saint Laurent and ‘70s rock and roll.

Kourtney Kyung Smith
Julie Ann Clauss, a Fashion Archivist, In Her Closet

Tom [Ford] has this quote—I'm paraphrasing it—but he said that the first thing you find beautiful sticks with you. It always influences you,” says fashion archivist Julie Ann Clauss of her longtime client. The quote in question is from the Vogue Stories podcast with Hamish Bowles. In a discussion of Halston, Ford’s unabridged statement was, “The first time you see beautiful things when you’re growing up, I think that aesthetic stays with you. The very first time you see a beautiful house, a beautiful apartment that moves you, a beautiful woman or a beautiful man, that forms [you]—the same way that food you ate as a kid does.” Growing up in New York City, Clauss first fell in love (aesthetically, at least) with the classic rock stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s. “I loved the way Robert Plant and Keith Richards looked,” she muses. All grown up (and deeply immersed in the fashion industry), that translates to a closet full of vintage concert merch, glittery platform heels, and a lot of Saint Laurent.

“[Yves Saint Laurent] is one of my all-time favorite designers,” she continues. Though the eponymous designer is no longer with the house, Clauss’ love for the brand persists through the various designer eras, from Hedi Slimane to Anthony Vaccarello. In her closet, a contemporary patent-leather Saint Laurent coat hangs next to a butterfly-print YSL Rive Gauche (the moniker of their less expensive line of the ‘60s and ‘70s) dress. And don’t get us started on the rose-emblazoned catsuit from the Spring ‘22 collection. “I mean, I can't shop the way my clients do,” the collector laughs. “Maybe I get to buy one runway look [per season].”

Collecting is a skill Clauss has sharply honed throughout her career. Founder of The Wardrobe, a fashion archival consultancy and curation studio, she works with clients ranging from the aforementioned Ford to Calvin Klein, Gabriela Hearst, Jason Wu, Chloe Sevigny, and many more she’s not permitted to disclose. “Each of our clients has a sort of mini private little museum,” she explains. “My team and I are like the collections managers or curators of these little museums.” They photograph, catalog, and document every item that comes into their facility. (In case you’re curious, the location is, to our dismay, strictly guarded.) They do everything from digitizing the collection to dictating the means of storage. Does this item need repairs? Should it be hung or folded? And so on and so on. Clauss also helps clients cultivate their personal collections. In other words, she’s turned vintage shopping into a profession.

And who are said collectors? They range from designers buying back old work to recording artists looking to store stage and red-carpet ensembles. Then, there are the ambiguous collectors in it for the sport. Intrigued? Us, too. “Typically, they buy things right from the runway and they send them to us at the store.” Clauss’ personal wardrobe is curated via the latter strategy and the same level of intensity prevails.

“I really only buy documented pieces when I'm collecting for myself,” Clauss notes. The archivist purchases if (and only if) she can find the item visually documented in an old runway collection, in an editorial, or photographed on a celebrity. “You'd be amazed how many times dealers don't know what they have. I'll be like, ‘Wow. I have a picture of Bianca Jagger wearing that 1970s suit and no one realizes what it is.’" This strategy is not purely for the historical cache; it’s a value proposition. “I tell everybody that when a piece is a few seasons old, it's kind of radioactive. Nobody wants it,” she explains her thinking. That’s the time to buy something for cheap and sit on it. (Fair warning: she recommends doing so for 10-15 years.) “I experienced this with Tom [Ford]'s pieces,” Clauss explains of helping him buy back pieces from his tenure at Gucci. This was before the search term “Tom Ford era Gucci” yielded such insane results. “We bought them at a time where we were able to get good deals and now some of the dresses are like $25,000,” the archivist muses. “You know, with anything, it's about timing.” And that sale could fund the next runway purchase—maybe this isn’t so much an art but a science.

Not everything in Clauss’ closet is plucked from a runway. Peppered in between the bubblegum pink Valentino mini dress and the well-loved Birkin bag lies a torn button down passed down from her father. Her collection of old concert merch tells its own story. One look at the faded Prince tee or the Rolling Stones shirt boldly proclaiming “Bad Boys of Rock and Roll” and you can see middle-school-age Clauss leafing through the racks of an East Village thrift store in the ‘90s. “I buy one at every show that I go to, because I know that they have future value,” she says—duly noted. In full homage to Penny Lane of Almost Famous, the Los Angeles transplant even owns an embroidered afghan coat from the '60s (a New York purchase that not even the mildest LA winter could force her to part with). “If you look at the pictures of the rock stars from that time, they all had them.”

No matter the value (monetary or personal), everything is, of course, stored with the utmost care. Pieces are sectioned off by type, and arranged by hemlines and color palettes. “My hangers are good. You won't see any huggables in my closet,” she laughs, before launching into an informed soliloquy on shoulder support. “My things take up space,” Clauss continues. “Lucky for me, I can store things in the archive if I run out of room.” Shop her closet essentials here.

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