Gossip's Web

Interview with Shahan Assadorian by Quintessa Matranga on February 26, 2017

Shahan Assadorian runs Archivings.net, a website and archive of images scanned from rare fashion magazines that Assadorian collects. The archive is primarily focused on avant garde and lesser known designers from the 90’s. Archivings is over 445 pages deep and is updated regularly with backstage and runway photo scans along with caption info identifying the designer, season and year for each image. Out of Archivings came Clothjects, a page on the site where Assadorian and Misty Pollen match scans of outfits from Archivings.net to links where you can actually purchase the rare clothing object through online auctions like eBay. Assadorian lives in Toronto where he works at Starbucks by day and scans by night. We talked through gchat for this interview.

Quintessa Matranga: I’m really excited about your show at BUG. What are you planning to do for it?

Shahan Assadorian: I’ve been watching tutorials on how to tinker with your scanner to alter its uses. I’m thinking I might either turn it into a lamp or open it up and place things inside the scanner bed so it sort of becomes a picture frame. Fun fact, the scanner I’m getting also has a secret function which is this: https://youtu.be/KImkZvLOCfA

It’s actually playing Ode to Joy with scanner sounds. I looked into it and it’s basically a genre of music called “power electronics”. Another idea I had was to fill the scanner bed with buttons but only enough so that you can still see the mechanics inside.

Q: Let’s talk about your interest in scanning. I found it interesting that all the images on your website are scanned from hard copy magazines. It seems like a very laborious process. You mentioned a lot of the magazines come from Japan and are difficult to get a hold of.

S: I got into fashion through my peers on the Internet. I grew up following fashion shows and reading fashion magazine. When this interest first developed I realized I was sort of out of touch with things that had already happened in fashion. As a way to catch up I would go to bookstores and look for fashion books and old magazines. I initially found magazines like Gap Press and was shocked at some of the things that were happening in the late 90’s that I had not seen before.

At the time my main focus was on Japanese fashion because there was little to no record of any of their work on the Internet. My process is basically documentation sharing. I find a lot of the magazines on Yahoo auctions. They are usually a lot cheaper on that website and there just seems to be more options. A big part of the process is just organizing the material I collect. I catalog things by designer and season the way Tumblr is set up though with its tagging. I can’t really overlap tagging though which means someone can only look at the entirety of say spring 1999 or the entirety of a brand or designer.

Q: What brands have you discovered or learned more about through this process? I’m really interested in Undercover for example.

S: Jun Takahashi’s early work is one of my favorite things ever. Brands like 20471120, Beauty:Beast, Masaki Matsushima, Matsuda, Shinichiro Arakawa are all amazing avant-garde Japanese labels that didn’t seem to achieve the same sort of worldwide success as Rei Kawakubo or Yohji Yamamoto. I use the archive as a sort of map to find things from those brands online. Sometimes I end up finding a piece that I have scanned before which is very exciting to me. Just yesterday I found a photo of dress by Shinichiro Arakawa that I had previously scanned.

Q: So, you’re not scanning the entire magazine, you are picking and curating the looks that resonate with you, is that right?

S: Well I have gone back and forth with what I do and don’t scan. There have been moments where I have felt that I should be scanning every page and let others decide what resonates with them but there is just… so much to scan. There are things that I have yet to scan though just because I haven’t gotten around to it or I receive a new magazine in the mail and get distracted. In the past I’ve wanted to scan things that don’t exactly seem to be great design choices just to present something that could spark a dialogue but more recently I’ve tried to shy away from this.

Q: What do you look for now?

S: Well the sort of thing I really truly go after right now is any backstage photos, photos from odd angles, blurry photos, unfocused, and invitations to fashion shows. Any sort of thing that is surrounding the actual runway presentation. It’s hard to find. It’s not always what I end up posting but I guess that is the life of a collector, you end up looking for things that may not even exist.

Q: Do you have any images that you find and think are too good to post?

S: I don’t withhold much but there are things that are hard to credit because the description is in Japanese which I don’t know how to read and if I can’t credit it I won’t post it. I use a proxy service to buy my magazines and clothes generally but I have yet to really find a person to transcribe things for me yet (I haven’t really been searching too hard).

Q: The scans are mostly from the 90’s, do you see a conversation between those ideas and things that are happening now? Is that of interest to you at all?

S: It is hard to tell what is simply nostalgia and what is just history repeating itself. I don’t think too hard on it. I don’t really want to be known as cynical about the current state of affairs in fashion right now.

Q: Tell me about cloth objects.

S: Cloth objects is a blog Misty Pollen and I run together, although we don’t update it so often anymore. Basically it is links to clothes and objects and books made by a given fashion brand. We will normally post things we can accurately identify by season/year but I will also post things that have been photographed nicely. I really love to see a garment laying flat on the floor or even just hung on a wire hanger. I just love seeing a garment, especially one I have scanned before, not being worn by a person. It’s like converting the object from 3D to 2D.

Q: It really has a different effect, almost more pure.

S: But also I love finding objects, Undercover is great for this because the Undercover brand has produced such a wide variety of memorabilia. For instance, an invitation to their fall 1999 show was a copy of a children’s book version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Undercover Fall/Winter 1999 invitation: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde written by R.L. Stevenson and Illustrated by Susan Hayashida

The link no longer works because It’s been bought and the domain has expired but I still have the photos which I’m glad about. The collection had reversible pieces shown both ways. Let me show you an example:

The models were sent down two by two wearing the same garment but one of them was inside out. You can sort of tell by looking at the neckline of the model’s dress on the left. Also by the way the garment is moving when she lifts her legs. But Clothjects was formed by my love for outsider product photography and it overlapped because it was photography of things I had an interest in. Also sites like eBay, Yahoo auctions, and Rakuten are archives just more temporary than others.

Q: I wanted to interview you for Gossip’s Web, because Gossip’s Web is also an archive, but for artist-run galleries. The impulse to archive things is interesting to me. I think of BUG that way too.

S: Yes! I actually inherited this impulse from my father and mother. My father collects gramophones and musical instruments and my mother, she grew up in Syria, would seek out harder to find English music and transcribe it into Arabic. I recently learned that about her, I thought it was incredible. She showed me one of her old journals.

Q: Do they know about archivings.net?

S: They do but they don’t have much interest in it other than occasionally asking me how it’s going. They are really traditional and the realm I’m working in isn’t so profitable or even really regarded with much artistic understandings as far as the average parental unit is concerned anyway.

Q: Have you thought about taking a job in the fashion or design industry? Or studying it academically?

S: I have had thoughts of studying to be a librarian just because it makes some sense but I have also been asked by a few smaller designers to do research for their labels. And I have been told that a lot of students at London’s CSM use archivings as a reference fairly often. I have been working in the fashion industry just not really making a living off of it. I would love to publish a book! I don’t know. I want to do everything. That seems to be the general dream of my peers as well.

Q: A book would be incredible. How would you organize it?

S: Well my dream would be to reach out to photographers that worked as runway photographers, go through their archives and pick out any reject images. Just anything previously unpublishable I’d love to organize and publish!