The beginning of a global pandemic may not seem like the most auspicious time to launch a new fashion label, yet in March 2020, Queens of Archive burst onto the fashion scene providing the perfect antithesis to lockdown loungewear — their glamorous, vintage-inspired dresses-with-edge quickly procuring something of a cult following.
The brand is run by friends and co-founders Sarah Plunkett and Nicola Orme. Plunkett is a native of Tallaght in Dublin and is currently living in Manchester, while Orme is from Chester in England and resides in Belfast.
Both women have many years of experience in the international fashion business — Plunkett as a senior visual merchandiser for highstreet and premium brands and retailers, and Orme as an experienced fashion designer.
“Sarah and I were at similar stages of our lives. We had both worked for other people, we both wanted to do our own thing and were both willing to take the risks that come with that,” says Orme.
“When you get to where you always wanted to be in your career you kind of wonder ‘Is this it? Is this what I’ve worked so hard for all my career?’” says Plunkett. “I think that is when myself and Sarah started to say: ‘Imagine if we worked this hard but on something that was our own?’”
Design director Orme describes herself as ‘the hoarder next door’. “I love print and pattern and am a magpie for vintage detail. Vintage gets my heart racing. Over 15 years in fashion I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world on manufacturing or shopping trips, hunting out the best local car boot sale or flea market.”
Orme’s passion for vintage and Plunkett’s love of music inspired the name of the brand. “Because of my vintage hoard, I’d already been thinking of ‘archive’, referring to my own archive and the general archive that is all the vintage that exists,” says Orme. “When plotting the brand and business name, we were also talking about all of the ‘queens’ who inspire us. We both shouted, ‘Queens of Archive’ at each other at the same time. So that was it — Queens of Archive was born.”
If the brand is inspired by female icons such as Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Francois Hardy and Anita Pallenberg, there is no shortage of modern day ‘queens’ who have embraced the brand. Queens of Archive has been spotted on Irish celebrities Una Healy, Amy Huberman, Imelda May and Laura Whitmore, while across the pond celebrity fans include Holly Willoughby, Lisa Snowdon and Brix Smith Start who recently referred to the brand as ‘Fashion Prozac’.
Orme and Plunkett have set out to produce carefully considered items of clothing. “My designs for other people were no different to how I design now, but in order to become commercial and mass-produced, the garment was watered down, fabrications changed, all details would disappear in order to meet the price point. It is naturally disheartening,” says Orme.
“Queens of Archive is everything but that —
I design exactly how I would want a garment to be and take time over each detail and fabrication.”
The founders have adopted a slow policy of producing limited runs of timeless garments and have a zero waste goal for their brand. This system, currently being adopted by many independent brands, prevents overproduction and is therefore good from both an environmental and a commercial perspective.
“Our ethos is to create heirloom pieces whilst being conscious of the environment and of how many we produce of each garment. These are all things I take on board as we design, plan and launch each range,” says Orme. “Every decision that we make is based around the idea of zero waste,” echoes Plunkett.
For Queens of Archive, this means that demand has often been greater than supply since the brand launched — not a bad place for an emerging label to be. “Through our celebrity endorsements we have been selling out on our pre-orders so we have been extremely lucky in that we have a clear direction of how we need to buy [from their manufacturers],” explains Plunkett. “Take for example the ‘Marianna’ dress worn by Holly Willoughby on ITV’s
it was sold out by the time the programme ended.
“So we then put it on pre-order so that customers could order it in advance.”
Having launched on Instagram to a flurry of excitement last year, the two women are determined to step outside the usual seasonal approach to business. They are also keen to produce the very best garments they can at an affordable price for customers — something which entails a careful balancing act between maintaining their brand ethos, balancing costs and margins whilst growing the business and selling clothing at a price customers can afford.
“Our garments aren’t just for a season, they will see you through a lifetime and will hopefully become something our customers hand down. Classic and timeless is always at the forefront of our designs. We are only small, but we hope we can play a small part in the movement toward slow and more sustainable fashion.”
Having started her fashion career in visual merchandising or as a “window dresser” at Arnotts, Plunkett says she was delighted to return to the store for the Queens of Archive pop up over Christmas. “It was amazing to see it from a visual point of view with the lighting and the props and so on. It was also very interesting to see our brand adjacent to others in the shop. Arnotts were terrific to work with.”
Having gotten off to a great start in one of the most challenging years ever for the fashion industry, both Orme and Plunkett have great ambitions for 2021 with interest from retailers and international distributors alike, and, it seems their customers simply can’t get enough of them.
“The dramatic shoulders, the clashing prints … all these elements make you feel good when you put on our clothes. I don’t know whether we are reminding our customers of what the world used to be like, and will be again or what, but people are really buying into our clothing,” says Plunkett.
“Customers are saying ‘I don’t know when or where I am going to wear this dress but I know I really need it in my wardrobe’.”