Founded in 1990 by Irene Albright, a stylist turned fashion industry mogul, Albright Fashion Library serves as the top destination for international editors, stylists, and celebrities in search of coveted items from the most sought-after designers. For the past decade, Irene has worked alongside her fashion-forward and business-savvy daughter Marina Albright, and together this mother-daughter team continues to grow their business in new and exciting ways while tackling the ever-present challenges of the COVID-19 era.
Tell us what inspired you to start Albright Fashion Library.
Irene: Albright Fashion Library (AFL) was the result of filling a void within the market and seizing an opportunity that I identified while working as a stylist. I was constantly buying clothes for a specific photo shoot or client. Even then [in 1990], I saw the waste that was happening within the industry—something that’s a hot topic now, 30 years later. The clothes, after they were used for a shoot, were tossed into a closet, never to be seen again. I saw an opportunity to reuse some of these key pieces, so I purchased them after the shoot from my clients. Soon thereafter, I found myself with a vast collection of important and iconic pieces that I was able to lend out directly to stylist and editors. So instead of stylists going to department stores to purchase clothing for their shoots, they started to come to me. They would pay a fraction of the retail cost to borrow it versus buying it. I quickly became a trusted resource within the industry for all their fashion needs and built the foundation of this business on the personal relationships I developed with leading photographers, stylists, and editors.
What are some of your favorite memories from your styling days?
Irene: In the early ’90s we were shooting a campaign for Jeanne Lanvin’s first collection in Cairo when the photographer realized the collection was Russian-inspired and made a costly decision to move the shoot. Victoria’s Secret back in the ’80s was so fun, that was when they had the top girls shooting—Naomi, Linda, and Claudia. I enjoyed it so much that I made my husband [who was a curator at the Brooklyn Museum] come to work with me.
How do you decide on which pieces to purchase?
Marina: When we buy for AFL we really are looking for the special pieces, the gown that isn’t available everywhere, or the dress that is probably not getting produced. We’re known for offering an exclusive selection that is otherwise unavailable. Balenciaga, Dior, and Saint Laurent are some of my favorite all-time designers. Their pieces always have longevity and relevance in our collection.
Irene: And Jacquemus is leading the way with innovative artistic pieces that speak to the artist in me.
What do you think makes AFL so unique?
Irene: We pride ourselves on having a group of editors who have their own individual eye and knowledge of the collection to help editors and our clients make a refined selection.
You grew your business from industry-only to consumer-facing. With a growing business model, how do you keep yourself differentiated from other companies that offer “looks for rent”?
Marina: It’s important to our brand to maintain its ethos of super luxury and high-end fashion—our growth plan is not to open up to the masses, but to maintain our position as leaders within the industry, offering items you can’t find anywhere else. We’re targeting a specific client who is looking to get dressed for, let’s say, the Met Gala, an award show, or a big red carpet moment. Even during this challenging time, we’re making sure not to over-expose ourselves. We have, instead, taken this time to invest our time and energy in maintaining and growing our relationships with important clients and fashion brands, ensuring both that we’re here for them in the short- and long-term.
How do you archive everything?
Marina: We have a 7,000-square-foot showroom in Noho and another 6,000 square feet in Trousdale, L.A. Everything is categorized by designer and then color and garment style, much like a classic library, except we have our own Dewey Decimal System. The larger the collection grew we realized that each designer needed their own space to be exhibited.
On that note, how has your business shifted during the COVID-19 era?
Marina: One thing currently on my mind is Paris Fashion Week. Typically, I would spend mid-August planning our monthlong buying trip to Paris. I love the energy of being in Paris during Fashion Week and will definitely miss it this fall. Instead of traveling, we will take appointments via Zoom and Skype. I guess the upside of doing this from the comfort of our home is not having to deal with jet lag. Much of our own business is shifting from showroom to online appointments, and we’re now offering our clients access to our curated collections through our website.
What are your clients pulling looks for during these days of social distancing and lack of events?
Irene: Our clients are still pulling product for beauty and lifestyle campaigns, small events, and intimate gatherings. We have even had a few VIPs request couture pieces for at-home date nights, just to mix it up and to feel and look great.
Your specialty has been red carpet. What can we expect to see this year from our favorite celebs and the designers they wear?
Irene: This year, the Emmys, for example, are virtual. We’re being told that celebs will broadcast from their homes or in a unique setting. It’s fun to work with our clients and develop a unique concept on how they will be dressed to either present or receive an award. The sky’s the limit with creativity! While some celebs may opt for luxe loungewear, others will go all-out with more traditional red carpet looks. In either case, we’re here to support and facilitate their vision.
What have been some memorable red carpet looks from AFL?
Irene: I have been buying classic pieces since 1990, and I’m most excited when I see these vintage pieces walk the red carpet with a modern update. We especially love seeing our exclusive Tom Ford Gucci collection realized once again. We often work with cosmetic companies for the spokespeople attending Cannes; it’s glamorous in a way that feels different than your typical red carpet.
Have you ever considered doing an exhibition?
Marina: In 2014, we lent a selection to FIT’s museum; my mom and I strongly believe in helping students by allowing them to peruse our archives for inspiration. We’ve also contributed to the Met’s fashion exhibitions while we still have one of the largest vintage collections of Alexander McQueen, and for its recent “Camp: Notes on Fashion” exhibition, our vintage Moschino lit up the red carpet. We’d love to work more closely in the future with museums as we both agree that fashion is also an art—and AFL has the largest privately owned collection.