Behind the Archive: Coup De Grâce

Published June 16, 2023

Notre Interviews Coup de Grace

Whether it’s documents stored behind closed doors in a museum, or a collection of designer clothing, archiving is about preserving stories. Looking to the past allows creators and enthusiasts alike to connect with what came before—a crucial piece of developing personal taste and contextualizing whatever realm of fashion draws your interest. Fashion archives, especially in the internet age, are often a great way for burgeoning fans to learn about a designer's work, or the work that inspired them.

What often separates an archive from simply collecting is the act of curation. With a discerning eye, disparate pieces come together to form a whole that is greater than its parts; expanding aesthetic worlds and representing the work of designers and craftspeople at its best. One example is Coup De Grâce, the clothing archive of Casey Kohn.

Notre Interviews Coup de Grace

The Coup De Grâce archive is diverse, ranging from collaborative visvim to Gucci by Tom Ford to ‘90s Helmut Lang, but it’s easy to see a common thread. The pieces are all brought together by an earnest appreciation for the value that each piece holds beyond the name on the label. Not only do the pieces serve to typify the work of the designer, they illustrate a dedicated development of the taste and knowledge that makes Casey unique.

In anticipation of our pop-up with Coup De Grâce we connected with the man behind the archive. Casey recently relocated to Chicago, looking to the city as a place to further connect with his interests and grow his business. We met up with Casey at his apartment and chatted about what informs the taste he uses to build his archive, the value of wearing your clothes, and some of the stories that the business has brought along the way.

Sam Waterhouse
Casey Kohn

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you begin collecting?

It really started when I was fourteen years old and I got really into Nike Dunks. I was really drawn to products that I saw that had a lot of context behind them—each one had a theme. Almost akin to Pokémon cards, you memorize one thing that you understand and then it becomes a cataloging type of thing. From there, it evolved from footwear into clothing generally. After being obsessed with Nike SBs I became a raw denim enthusiast. I was super excited about pants. Shoes to pants is a natural progression, I suppose. From raw denim I made the easy descent into Supreme, and all the collaborations they had introduced me to so many different subcultures that I wanted to research. It really ballooned from there.

What shifted from having a personal collection to having an archive business?

I couldn’t afford what I wanted. I saw so many other people applying mercantilism to this interest. It made so much sense to me to use what I like to get more of what I like. It was a win-win situation. I could buy something, and even if I had to sell it I got to enjoy it while I had it, as well as being a jumping-off point to get to what I wanted more. The idea of mercantilism and a marketplace really got me excited about using this interest to get more of what I was interested in.

Notre Interviews Coup de Grace

Does your interest in collecting take any other shapes in your life?

I like to think about collecting as a secondary thing, you collect what you’re interested in. It’s almost an auxiliary or an accessory to what you do. Find your non-material interests. I think of collecting as a reflection of your non-material interests. The type of music I like, or the lifestyle I live, is reflected in the type of products I’m interested in.

I think of collecting as a reflection of your non-material interests. The type of music I like, or the lifestyle I live, is reflected in the type of products I’m interested in.

What drives you to the specific designers and products that make up your collection?

If it relates to my interests. Raf Simmons was someone I was extremely interested in very early on, simply because he referenced the things I also enjoyed. One of his earlier seasons was all inspired by the electronic group Kraftwerk. I was thinking, “Well, I love Kraftwerk,” and here’s a season of clothing that’s inspired by that band. It was a very obvious connection to me. Or with Dior Homme, how a lot of the stuff was inspired by Indie Rock like The Strokes, Pete Doherty, Babyshambles, and things of that nature. One of the first things I can remember really enjoying was Indie Rock and bands like The Strokes, so it was just kind of natural. It just made sense.

Notre Interviews Coup de Grace

Are there other interests that inspire your choices in clothing outside of music?

I like it when a product does a really good job of doing its job, if that makes sense. I’m not always the best at taking care of things that I own, and it’s a bummer that when you wear something a lot that it depreciates, which can make you unmotivated to wear something you may have worked really hard to get. So it’s nice when a product ages organically, or just motivates you to want to use it.

It’s mainly those two things. It’s the context of what the item is, as well as the craftsmanship of it. Some things are simply valuable for the context or the story behind it. For instance, the Jil Sander Paper Bag is obviously not made of very expensive material, it's the context of that paper bag that makes it valuable. While other things are very valuable because of the degree of work that went into making that product. Of course there is the third category that has both of those: context and craftsmanship.

...It’s nice when a product ages organically, or just motivates you to want to use it.

Your prices are set at a level that a lot of people would consider more accessible than some other vintage dealers. You’ve said before that by doing that you hope to encourage people to actually purchase and wear the clothing instead of admiring it online. Is this motivated by some personal belief about what clothing should do? Can you speak to that idea a bit?

I think there is already too much product in the world. Of course there is some amount of clothing with a certain prestige where it’s like, “Maybe don’t wear that.” But otherwise, having something to just take up space—it just loses its purpose. And we don’t need that much stuff. So if you have a product and it’s not being utilized, then it’s worthless.

I also have to make a living, and I can’t afford to simply have something sit and look pretty for a long time. Turnover rate is just an unfortunate aspect that I have to try to maximize. Items that are a good way for someone to get into something new, while at the same time not being difficult to justify, are a great way to push that interest further.

Notre Interviews Coup de Grace

Do you have any stories around pieces in your collection that really stand out?

I have what I would call my core wardrobe, which is just seven or eight items. I don’t have too many outfits that I personally wear. Everything in my core wardrobe is something I have had for almost a decade. They are something I saw once and spent a while trying to track it down and then I made it part of my uniform. So there are particular pieces that I have worn hundreds and hundreds of times, that look like they’ve been worn hundreds and hundreds of times.

I don’t have too many outfits that I personally wear. Everything in my core wardrobe is something I have had for almost a decade.

Have there been any clients that you have been really excited about?

There have been a lot of very interesting clients over the years. For a while I was doing the wardrobe for most of Travis Scott’s new music videos and projects. It’s been over a year and half maybe since we have communicated, but there was a good long stretch where I was one of the people providing wardrobe for his projects. Same for Migos and a few other similar people. Probably the most exciting for me personally, though, is an electronic artist that I very much like who made a purchase from the website. A guy named Mall Grab. I’ve done a lot of business with artists before, but I have a pretty narrow taste in terms of the music I like. I respect all the others, of course, but Mall Grab is someone who’s music I really like as well. I sent him an email to say, “Hey! Thanks for shopping,” and he responded very nicely so that was really exciting.

Notre Interviews Coup de Grace

Are most of your clientele online or word-of-mouth?

Chicago is a new city for me, so I am really hoping to expand my audience here, but for the most part it is all online. I do by-appointment shopping, which is a new thing that I am excited about, but Coup De Grâce is primarily an online business.

Do you have regulars?

Yeah, absolutely. Lot’s of familiar faces that I’ve had repeat visits from over the years, and relationships that have fostered from someone buying. Or, a lot of people that are similar to me and love an opportunity to info-dump and share a lot about it. Some people in my business don’t like to talk as much, but anytime someone messages me I just can’t help but just be like, “Hey, let’s talk!” I’m always excited for an opportunity to further share or discuss.

Coup de Grâce's pop-up at Notre's West Loop flagship runs from June 16-19th.