If print is dead, no one told Toronto. Fashion lovers around the city have grown to cherish the tactile feel of old lookbooks, magazines and other vintage fashion books with creative styling — and they don’t sell for cheap. Vintage fashion magazines and books can sell from $20 to over $300 (with a few so exclusive that you have to directly message the seller to find out the price). Some have turned their obsession into a business, while others turn to the fragile pages of their collections for their own innovation.
In 2020, Taylor Kan was working remotely for a consumer packaging company, going through the pandemic motions with books on hand. With a stack of rare fashion books on one end and a miraculously white pair of Margiela Tabis on the other, Kan says, “I was on the internet way too much during COVID and was searching for ways to get my creative juices flowing.”
His response to the lockdown woes was to begin uploading scans of his own personal collection. “There’s so much good content and so much you can take from magazines. But, with the older ones, they were obsolete online,” he says.
The scans began to blow up on Instagram with fashion lovers flooding his comments and direct messages to ask if they could purchase his books.
Offbrand Library was born from this influx. Today, Kan has accumulated about $20,000 in total sales while being completely operational in his bedroom. He sells everything from a San Francisco Rave Flyers from the 1990s for $25 to $350 for a Mark Borthwick fashion photography book from 1998. His rarest text that he offers is a first edition of 032c, an edgy fashion magazine from Berlin that sits on a pedestal among fashion fanatics.
One of those fashion fanatics is Alex Maxamenko. He serves as one half of a young creative duo that is giving Toronto access to an abundance of archive fashion. Maxameno has been connecting locals to unheard-of garments since he was 15 by using a proxy that he’d rather keep on a need-to-know basis.
He attributes his creative spark to the lookbooks that he consumes and previously sold on his Instagram.
“There’s a lot of information online. But if you want certain collections and minute details, you have to pull those from lookbooks,” Maxamenko says. “I had maybe 100 or 200 Kapital books at one point, and I’m dwindled down to my last 10 because people were obsessing over them.”
Maxamenko believes that, like most other hobbies, there are people in it for the creative value, and people who are in it just to flex. “There’s definitely a superiority complex that comes with it. People want to seem edgy for consuming print,” he says.
Alisa Elizabeth, known online as king lis, is a fellow young fashion flipper who appreciates art texts for their inherent creativity. Selling rare designer finds such as limited edition Dolce & Gabbana printed tops and this DSquared2 micro mini skirt from their Fall/Winter 2004 collection, Elizabeth collects these fashion tomes for personal use — and she’s on a mission to ensure art books are used for their intended purpose.
“I think art books undeniably have a decorative use to them but I try to make sure that’s never their primary purpose. I always read a book when I first get it, and then I’ll reference it again for various reasons depending on the book,” she says.
Torontonians can begin the search for old lookbooks all over the city, as vendors range from online accounts to sneaker shops on the outskirts of town.