Horror Vacuo Curates Fashion’s Most Cerebral Designs

The boutique bringing avant-garde pieces to everyone from Travis Scott to Lil Yachty.

Writer: Max Berlinger Photos: Courtesy
hero

Kel Saborouh fell into fashion by accident, but it’s now his world. The 29-year-old reseller and archivist came to it backwards, selling clothes for a profit when he was laid off from his job in tech. Needing to make some money, he would find designer goods at local thrift shops and sell them for a mark-up on niche resale sites. One day, Saborouh started to ponder why some items demanded such inflated prices. Soon he had fallen down a wormhole of fashion philosophy, enmeshed in the sartorial quandaries that some of our most erudite creators were working out with cloth, scissors and thread. 

Today, Saborouh runs Horror Vacuo, a shop that specializes in a certain type of archival fashion. Not hype-chasing pieces made with Instagram likes in mind, but ruminative, thoughtfully-constructed items that are akin to artworks. Pieces from Margiela, Raf, Rick, Yohji, and the like, that challenge the very notion of luxury and that ask of its wearer a little more than aesthetic pursuits. For that reason, his ever-evolving collection has attracted “fashion nerds”—rappers, celebrities or stylists who don’t want the latest logo-strewn hoodie, but articles of clothing from mad geniuses of the fashion world. “I try to curate things that nobody else has,” he says. 

GOAT caught up with Saborouh to discuss the pieces in his Fall Exhibit curation and what he thinks future archivists will be chasing. 

Shop the full Horror Vacuo collection here.

What are your first fashion memories from growing up? 

Until my young adulthood, I thought that fashion was kind of superficial. I didn't really pay much attention to it and I saw it more as a commercial scheme. My parents sent me to Payless Shoes; I didn’t even know what Air Force 1s were. I started getting into shoes around the time I started skating. I’m 29, so Abercrombie & Fitch was big, and I didn’t really know about designers—except for Rick Owens, because I was an edgy, dark kid. I was like, These clothes are sick. 

So what was the turning point for you, when you became interested in fashion? 

I come from tech, which helps explain my very weird, prosaic view of fashion. I used to work for a credit card processing company and we would buy old processing machines for our R&D [on an online marketplace] and my friend and I wrote a bot to buy stuff. I wanted nice things, but didn’t have a ton of money at the time, so I used the bot to buy clothes. I realized I could sell them for, like, 15-20% profit margin. I’d buy Junya flannels or I’d get Rick tees—I’d find them for $60 or $80! 

Around this time, I started to dive into the brands and learn about their history. That’s when I started to really appreciate what they were offering. The one that really sticks out to me is Margiela. Then my worldview totally changed from a very money-driven point-of-view. It’s not like that now. Now, I buy things because I like them, and the money comes second. 

What about Margiela and his work interested you specifically? 

Everything I read about him was so amazing. It was conceptual, based on deconstruction, but he didn’t call himself a deconstructionist. And when he deconstructed something, it was really a commentary on clothing itself. He would break things down to their essence. He was anonymous and he refers to the brand as “we” as opposed to “I,” focusing on the collaborative aspect. And he’s inspired a lot of designers, like Raf. 

Tell us about turning your interest in vintage clothes into your own store.

When I opened an Instagram shop, I noticed that other people would show an item with no information about it. Some of these items need a placard to explain their historical or aesthetic significance. So I started writing these long… almost dissertations on an item and the collection. Everyone does this now, but at the time, it was a way for me to market an item, but also it would force me to do research on a designer and find runway pictures. That’s how I accumulated a following. Because people could see the item and why it’s important and what it meant. Like, why is one sweater that’s beat up and has one graphic on it $800? 

Tell us about the community you’ve built online. 

There [was already an established community] of people online who are, basically, nerds and into archive fashion. They're very online and very knowledgeable. But a lot of designers, collections and their meanings are so obscure, and so hard to find. The stuff that I write is through me buying a book or scanning a stupid-expensive book. There’s a lot of gatekeeping online, but that community existed already. What I think happened [with Horror Vacuo] was that I was able to cultivate some kind of interest among young people and people that wouldn't be into that thing to begin with. 

How would you describe your collection, or what you hope to achieve with your assortment? 

I try to curate things that nobody else has, or try to curate things that are at the forefront of something new. But that can be very difficult. So another portion of my collection focuses on items that can sell, pieces that you're probably familiar with. So for [this Fall Exhibit] collection, I have Rick Owens’s Aircuts pants, which are a very popular piece. But I also have weird stuff like a Margiela wooden wallet that I’m pretty sure no one has seen when it was released in 2011. I like having those extremes. 

How has your clientele developed over the years?  

A lot of my clients are in the entertainment industry—more specifically, rappers. I deal with their stylists or deal with them on a personal level. Like for Travis [Scott], I deal with his stylist, I’ve never talked to him. But with Lil Yachty and Goldlink, I’ve worked directly with them. They’re more interested in developing their style, and I can almost act as a personal shopper for them. They’re not just interested in what a piece looks like, but also its historical value. I think it helps them feel like they’re a part of its history. I was surprised because when I first opened the store, I thought it was just for nerds like me, who are interested in this stuff. I didn’t think rappers would come in. 

Do designers or their teams come in to get items for reference or inspiration? 

Oh yeah, there's definitely some top brands—that I can't name—who come by for inspiration. If I told you, I’d be giving away certain future collabs. 

Who are the designers you’re keeping tabs on for the next few months and into next year? 

From my time doing this, I’ve learned that Margiela has always kept its value. Forever. It's steady like a rock. Margiela has always been sought out, even now. It’s hard to find cool pieces, especially from before [Martin Margiela] left the house, because people keep them. I hate to say the word investment, but it is a safe investment. Rick Owens had a huge popularity surge this year and last, but that may be waning now because it’s a little oversaturated. Then there are these small Japanese brands that are starting to get bigger, like Beauty: Beast and 20471120. Helmut is pretty cheap right now, that’s something that people could invest in. 

But for the most part, you should be investing in what you like. When I go to people’s houses [to do buys], it’ll be some guy like, ‘Yeah, I saw this Raf jacket at a store in Antwerp and I bought it and now it’s worth $20,000!’ Generally they like the thing they bought. People who follow their heart and buy things that are unique to an era, things that are outlandish or a little different, they’re usually rewarded in the long run.

Who are your personal favorite designers, collections, or favorite pieces?

Well, as I said, Margiela—pretty much anything from 1999 to 2009. There’s a lot of Raf that I really enjoy—this may sound cliché, but SS04 and AW02, the Virginia Creeper and May the Circle Be Unbroken collections. During his heyday, in 2001 to 2006, 2007, every single collection was wildly different from one another and he really captured that youth, iconoclasm, and that angsty nature of rebellion and post-punk era. It not only resonated with me aesthetically, but also because I like the music. 

Another one that people may not be familiar with is Hussein Chalayan, who was known for his women’s collections in the ‘90s, but he has some really cool menswear. He's a little pretentious, because his labels have this weird, esoteric, verbose explanation—something a weird professor would say, like some weird postmodern philosophy.

Who do you think future generations will be collecting? 

Kiko Kostadinov is pretty big for me. Craig Green fell off a little bit, but I think a lot of his older pieces are still worth checking after. Outside of that, it's really, really difficult to say. Maybe Rick Owens; the pieces he’s putting on the runway are amazing, every season. 

Why do you think collecting archival vintage pieces has taken off in the past few years? 

There are a lot of factors that go into this—stuff that I think about before I go to sleep [laughs]. A lot of things came into play and the stars aligned. First off, there’s an overall cultural shift in regards to men’s dress as a byproduct of modern social reform, like the milestones made by the LGBTQI+ movement which paved way for more men to feel comfortable in dressing expressively. The second is about the ecological impacts of clothing—buying used clothing has a net positive ecological impact. We have so many clothes today that sometimes affluent people would rather buy something that not only has a smaller environmental footprint but will increase in value over time. The third, I think, is that the resale culture, especially from brands like Supreme, leaked into the archive market. With these factors combined, the vintage market has become a cyclical, self-perpetuating movement. 

Why did you name your store Horror Vacuo? 

I really liked this concept of horror vacui, which, in Latin, means “Fear the void,” but that domain name wasn’t available so I changed it to Horror Vacuo. 

Are there any pieces from the GOAT Fall Exhibit collection that you’re particularly excited about? 

We have these Helmut Lang pants from FW99 that I’ve never seen before in leather, and none of my friends have either. There are some Raf pieces—the one I’m excited about is the ‘Closer’ hoodie. He was able to go to [legendary graphic designer] Peter Saville’s archive and use graphics from New Order and Joy Division. There’s a Vivienne Westwood suit which is really cool. Remember when TVs, a long time ago, if they didn’t have a channel, they’d have this pattern? Red, blue, yellow… the suit has that colorway. I’m excited about the Yohji pieces, from [collection] 6.1, the only one he did with Comme des Garcons. It’s an orange leather jacket, an iconic piece.

Shop Fall Exhibit: Horror Vacuo