4 -min. read

“Rummaging through books, archive fashion magazines, music magazines, the internet, movies and so on… Going on library crawls, too.” The duo behind Instagram account @portrait_s (9,133k)  former students at Paris’ Studio Berçot, united by a common appreciation of the same visual references – are talking about the intensive process that lies behind a trend that has gripped the social network recently: visual archives.

These are accounts that are largely anonymous, and always obsessive in strict visual language. They are moodboards for an unknown project, existing as a rare monument dedicated to a fiercely stringent niche. Take @portrait_s, for example – their account is an uncompromising doctrine of the duo’s shared aesthetic. “Quiet, not-so-angelic”, are words they use to describe their account: “insincerely disciplined girls growing into teenage angst–ridden girls with guitars and quirky cat-loving ladies in suits.” It’s a more ambiguous concept than, say, kitsch-centric @decorhardcore (135k), but no less meticulously curated.

1993 #kimdeal #kelleydeal #thebreeders #pukkelpop #pod #lastsplash

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Whether it’s the androgyny of Britpop favourites Elastica, fresh-faced Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in Robert Altman’s avant-garde 3 Women, or the inimitable Winona Ryder in ‘80s masterpiece, Heathers, the duo’s soft focus on the celebration of good girls with a tough side represents the extreme edge of this type of Instagram account. Joining them are the likes of @nightflesh (8,383k), dedicated to fashion-forward depictions of the occult; outré horror flicks and leather-clad bondage (the anonymous Brit behind it describes themselves as “a weirdo”); and C.Scangas, “the coldest person living in Massachusetts”, whose account @godzdntdie (131k) pays homage to the darker side of fashion.

Naturally, given that, to many people, fashion archiving is an actual job, style and the catwalk are familiar threads for these sorts of accounts – whether that’s devotion to a particular designer or fashion house, as in @chanel_archives (83.3k) or @raf_simons_archives (253k); magazines, such as @the____archive’s (7,849k) archive from The Face (run by its founder Nick Logan and son Maxwell); moments in time, like @90scigarettes (420k), @thiswasfashion (47.2k) and @70sdaily (261k); or personal scrapbooks such as @she_comes_in_technicolor (63.7k), run by Chicago-based jewellery designer Sarah Shikma.

“I come from a fashion background”, admits @she_comes_in_technicolor’s Shikma, “I studied fashion and my mother was a model in the ‘70s, so I’ve been collecting magazine clippings since middle school. I started the Instagram account as a way for me to archive images for myself – things that inspire me. For example, I just came across this website that has archived all of the old hardcopy Jalouse magazines and I started going through those, and Instagram gives me a way to keep the images somewhere to look back and find them.”

But this approach to Instagramming is not, as it is in Shikma’s case, purely about the act of archiving. In conveying a very particular aesthetic, these accounts are an expression of the self, an attitude in visual form. Look at @80s_renegade (62.3k) or @seventiees (73.1k) – they’re accounts that carry themselves with conviction. Like @portrait_s or @nightflesh, they’re accounts deeply personal to the archivist, pushing an aesthetic agenda, seizing their own foothold among Instagram’s oversaturated visual congestion.

For brands, these types of accounts offer a chance to tell your story, convey your personality and singular attitude, without the need for expensive photoshoots or graphic designers. In times when the bar is set by influencers with expensive DSLRs and seemingly infinite time on their hands, it can be difficult for businesses to use archive imagery to maintain both quality and quantity (especially in such a massively visual travel industry), and to create a social presence that not only stands out from the crowd, but also communicates a character that stylised photography might not.

A familiar name when discussing differential, Ace Hotel has perhaps unsurprisingly mastered this approach: their account a moodboard cum brand guideline, the brand has made a considered effort to showcase the personality of an entire hotel group through meticulously curated imagery. Fusing events information with the odd adhoc snap from their hotels, @acehotel (157k) predominantly leans towards the sort of inspiration that dominates the feeds of the Instagram archivists: artwork from the iconic social justice artist, Sister Corita Kent; a portrait of gay activist Marsha P. Johnson; grainy video footage; and Grace Jones. If you didn’t know what the inside of an Ace Hotel looked like, you could have a damn good guess from perusing their feed.

“Sister City is meant to act as a quiet respite from the noise of modern life”, says Kelly Sawdon, chief brand officer at Atelier Ace, speaking of the group’s forthcoming second hotel brand, “a place to recharge and begin again. Like John Cage’s ‘4’33’, we’re interested in creating a blank canvas that allows the humans who enter to animate the space directly.” Its Instagram account? A series of muted gradient blocks, found images of textures and warm hues. It tells an entirely separate story, but is an equal example of personality conveyed without conventional hotel photography.

Inspired by subcultural non-conformity, New Orleans design motel, The Drifter, describes itself as “an attitude, a mood, and a statement about individuality and independence”, taking its cues from the nomadic lifestyle of the Beat Generation artists, with its Instagram account, like Ace’s, representative of its core ethos. Bringing together contemporary art; buckets of beers; campfires; Beat protagonist William S. Burroughs; and beat-up cars, their Instagram feed is their mantra in visual form – another example of a brand being true to itself by allowing the archives to speak for themselves.

“It’s not just about the clothes for me”, says Carla Valderrama of @thiswasfashion, “it’s about the experiences and memories that go along with them. The images I post are often capsules of a period of time or art.” The beauty of vintage imagery is that the memories have already been made, and there is an instant connection to the experiences that surround them. By publishing evocative imagery, you can tell your own story, write your own narrative that is rich in emotional connection. If you want potential customers to relate to your brand, perhaps it’s time you found something that relates to and resonates with them.


Lisa Davidson
A traveller with a nose for curiosity, Lisa Davidson co-runs online culture-led travel magazine We Heart and has an insatiable appetite for the hidden corners of cities, long empty beaches and well-crafted cocktails.

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