As the yen for archival fashion has erupted in recent years, Artifact New York, a vintage rental collection based out of a Manhattan high-rise, has emerged as a leading resource for stylists, setting itself apart through its eclectic, yet editorial-minded curation. A search through the password-protected online catalogue reveals a treasure trove of pieces that span all eras and genres: Rare items like a pair of Helmut Lang 3M aviator pants live alongside designs of the moment like Daniel Lee’s Bottega Veneta combat boot.

From a stylist’s viewpoint, however, Artifact stands out chiefly for its utilitarian offerings: the slew of perfect little tanks and tees, well-cut jeans and trousers that are fundamental in their line of work. That’s precisely what Hugh Mo, who runs Artifact with business partner Max Tsiring, set out to do when he launched their joint venture in 2018.

Here, Mo took the time to speak with OR NOT about the origin of Artifact, his collector’s mindset, and a few of Artifact’s standout finds.


Tell me about your entry into the world of archival fashion.

My introduction to archival fashion originally took place when my friend started buying Raf Simons, mostly the early 2000s collection. This was in 2017, [and] I dismissed him at first. I thought I would never get into it since I was only into clothes that I personally wanted to wear. I was a collegiate tennis player, so I was used to wearing athleticwear and anything comfortable. I wore a lot of Nike and Under Armour, and then I got more into streetwear that had a casual design DNA like Yeezy.

The idea of buying vintage clothes that wouldn’t be worn regularly wasn’t something I considered. [Then] I started doing research and learned more about the fashion world. I went to all types of digital databases for research: I looked at online archive pages, runway shows, museum exhibitions, galleries, etc. I befriended people in the fashion world, I interviewed professionals, and surfed online groups dedicated to particular brands. I also learned a lot through consuming—I bought and sold a lot of items to fund my next purchases.

Even though I have no academic background in fashion, I became addicted to learning about the history of these pieces, [particularly at first] Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela. After that, I learned about other collectors and the craze around certain designers. Many collectors I looked up to ended up becoming close friends. I have a friend who is very passionate about Alaïa and another who's obsessed with Comme des Garçons. I met people who are very into newer designers like Haider Ackermann and Demna Gvasalia, who are great people to talk to for understanding what's happening in the fashion landscape.


What was the first piece you collected yourself?

My very first piece was a Raf Simons college sweatshirt from 2002 or 2003. I thought the designs of Raf’s clothing were very relatable. They could be interchanged with things I already liked to wear. It’s wearable, but also historical.

How did the idea for Artifact come about?

The idea came about because I was always a collector of things. Yu-Gi-Oh cards, coins from all over the United States, action figures (particularly Power Rangers), NBA jerseys, and sneakers. Artifact became an excuse to keep collecting what I love, [and] I realized that there was a potential to share this library with others.

When was that?

Artifact New York officially launched in fall of 2018. I had stumbled upon a collector who was able to, in my eyes, find an excuse to keep collecting without seeming like a complete hoarder. It appeared to me that he was able to make money from his passion and at the time, I wanted any reason to keep going and to take the pressure off of one day making clothing just another bygone hobby. I thought I could do something similar, a rental business that would be extremely focused on service and ensuring that stylists would be able to have everything they needed, should they be interested in the same kinds of clothing we're passionate about. We had our very first rental to Dianne Garcia, the stylist to SZA and Kendrick Lamar.


Your co-founder Max [Tsiring] initially ran Artifact as a vintage resale outlet. How did you two meet and decide to relaunch Artifact as we know it?

I first met Max on a line at Barney's in New York. I was a customer at his resale business, called Artifact, at the time, though that day I didn't know that because I had only been in communication with his then-business partner. Funnily enough, I ended up selling him a pair of Saint Laurent jeans. I always had his number saved. We kept in touch, and I reached out to Max to see if he would be interested in letting me work with him for archival rentals and letting me work with the Artifact brand name as a starting point. We formed the perfect partnership, since he brought a wealth of experience from a client services perspective and understood the necessary steps to grow.

My love of the clothing and his business expertise helped us become what we are today. We set out to build a centralized place for every stylist to use to create the images they want to make. We want to be a one-stop shop for them to be able to fulfill their artistic vision. We want to be a resource for stylists, so they can have the best shoots possible.

Is it right to say, then, that from the beginning your goal was to create an archive as a resource for stylists? That sounds more creatively driven in a sense.

The primary goal was always to create a place that allowed our pieces to act as a haven for stylists. It has also certainly become one of the most fulfilling parts of Artifact, especially seeing so many stylists make comments on how much they love our inventory. My collecting began as a creatively driven pursuit, but Artifact began because we felt like stylists were not being served a white glove experience for their shoots. I felt like many stylists were being catered to in silos and not given access to a wider and broader ranging archive. We evolved based on the demand we began seeing from stylists, and our archive continues to adapt to fit their evolving needs.

We primarily grew by word of mouth, but we also focused on organic outreach to stylists. We slowly started to gain traction. It was a lot of planning and trial and error during the early phases of Artifact.

How and why did you decide to shape Artifact as an archival rental service, as opposed to more traditionally selling vintage fashion?

We decided to do rentals because at first I simply loved the pieces and didn’t want to sell. We can have the clothes for hire, but keep them as a complete collection. What I find most fulfilling at the end of the day is that different clients have different visions for the pieces. There’s a personal satisfaction when we see two stylists rent the same piece and create completely different images. I have always admired these creatives. Renting clothing has allowed me to live vicariously through [them].

Is there a specific example that sticks out to you?

We rent to a variety of clients including design researchers and brands, so no two rentals end up being the same. One piece that stands out is a Helmut Lang harness top from 2003 that was rented once for a shoot with [model] Edie Campbell for Vogue Spain. Edie wore the harness strap around her neck, almost like a necklace. The same harness, but in a different material and color, was also used for another rental to Self Service magazine with [stylist] Camilla Nickerson. In this shoot, the harness was made into a crop top. You would never know it's the same piece by looking at these images side to side.

How did you begin building the Artifact archive?

After buying strictly for myself, once we started collecting for Artifact, we started curating and buying for a stylist’s eye as well. I did my research on what stylists needed on their racks—not just the rare, vintage pieces but pieces like tank tops and blue jeans. Helmut Lang was the first designer I began deep-diving into to build the collection. One of the best early pieces we collected was a Helmet Lang sheer mesh tank top that is now completely distressed on the back from use. It’s one of our top rentals.


You have a particularly strong collection of Helmut Lang. Roughly how many pieces do you have in the archive? Any standouts?

We have between 500 to 600 pieces of Helmut Lang. There's a pair of 3M-coated green aviator pants that are from Fall 2003. I have only seen three pairs, including ours, in existence. I found them listed on a secondary market site in Asia and was bidding on it while checking out of a hotel in Boston in the early morning.

And what do you think it is about Helmut's work that works so well for stylists today?

Helmut's pieces can fit a wide range of emotion, settings, and be very compatible with what stylists are feeling. They are very versatile in construction, but also feel like a blank canvas. They are elevated from non-designer basics, yet Helmut's pieces still feel grounded and utilitarian.

How would you describe Artifact's vintage curation? What sets it apart?

One of the biggest defining features that separates us from other archives is that we’re not just obsessed with honoring the legacies of a handful of designers. We’re not into one particular era either. We collect far and wide. We collect men’s, women’s, and hundreds of different designers. We collect new designers as well who are fresh out of their MFA’s. We don’t discriminate or narrow ourselves to one aesthetic. We think that if it’s good, it’s good. We take less of a niche approach.

A good representation of this is that we collect true vintage—we have a 1980s NASA spacesuit [that] was owned by an ex-astronaut. Unfortunately, the spacesuit never actually entered space, but it was used frequently for simulations. We also have hundreds of vintage T-shirts from the ’70s and ’80s. Some new designers that I have made a retail purchase recently include Adyar, who was the head designer of footwear at Rick Owens. I just bought a pair of combat boots by him, which are amazing in construction and quality. I also love Sterling Ruby’s newest clothes at his label. I'm also excited to see what Demna does at their first couture show at Balenciaga. I think he's one of the most important designers out right now.


How do you handle sourcing?

We source from everywhere, such as private sellers clearing their closets, secondary market websites, or in-person vintage stores. What might surprise people is that our sourcing is no different than any other vintage archive. We dedicate an immense amount of time to research. It’s impossible to build an archive like this without obsessively searching for the best.

How much time would you say you spend sourcing?

Roughly 60 hours a week. We have a showroom in New York City that is open for appointments and fittings. Our showroom is temperature controlled and uses double blinds to prevent sun damage.

Roughly 60 hours a week. We have a showroom in New York City that is open for appointments and fittings. Our showroom is temperature controlled and uses double blinds to prevent sun damage.

One of the most special pieces that I bought in fall of 2019 was a velvet cigarette shoulder jacket by Martin Margiela. Martin burned a cigarette hole into the jacket while a model was getting fitted for the runway. Martin would frequently gift models clothing as forms of payment early in his career. I bought it from one of Martin’s models [who] I knew personally. I first met her on Instagram, [and] befriended her when I visited Italy.


I bought two harnesses from a J.W. Anderson-curated exhibition in London called “Disobedient Bodies.” We found the pieces on a secondary market site during the winter of 2018, and I did know that they were part of the exhibition when I purchased them.

Another great piece we have is a pair of pants worn by Heath Ledger with his name handwritten on the label. Heath wore these pants on a movie set, and the movie director consigned this piece to a secondary market site where I purchased them in spring/summer of 2019. A photo of the label went viral on the internet. I do not know what movie they are from (although I would love to find out!).


Interview text_ MONICA KIM