what-else do you want to know?

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Thank you!
Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later
No items found.

From collecting coins to Comme des Garçons: How Octavius La Rosa became one of fashion’s most famous collectors.


Personally, I’ve always found the fashion conversation to be far more expansive when it’s in the wild. When it’s an action-over-words kind of thing. You see someone out in the world and they change your entire perspective, causing you to question what it is you’ve been doing (or wearing,) and inspiring a whole new sartorial thought process with a walk-by. Whether you know it or not, that person has likely been Octavius La Rosa. Or, at the very least, one of his dot COMME customers.

Anjali Torvi photographed by Charles Dennington.

Technically, it all started with Issey (Miyake.) A wax cotton batwing coat to be exact. But that was 15 years ago. And what’s transpired since is a collection that now sits around the 4,000 piece mark and of course the store, the aforementioned dot COMME. What originally began as a practical measure (when La Rosa’s personal collection started to get out of hand,) became the archival Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Walter van Beirendonck retailer with a cult and totally global following.

As one of the world’s biggest collectors of Comme (if not the biggest,) La Rosa’s practice feels part transcendental meditation, part relentless pursuit. “It’s always striving for the next thing,” he tells me over email, “to be a collector is to never be satisfied.” The collecting started early on. First with shells and rocks, then with currency and coins. It was at 14 he discovered fashion and he’s been on it ever since.

Not unlike the designers he collects and sells, La Rosa is mostly quiet about his influences. When some things are best said without words, what else is there to say? It’s a rare and moving thing to witness someone so utterly obsessed with clothing in this way. And ultimately, his collection is an ode to obsession; an obsession with clothes that are perfectly content in their obscurity.

For anyone in Australia, there’s always been this idea that to be closer to ‘fashion’ is to be overseas. And while that’s a consideration for La Rosa and dot COMME (he knows “it’s where the business would grow,”) there’s something validating in the knowing that their origins will always be here. Below, I sit down with La Rosa to learn more about the motivations behind it all.

Hilary Bourke: How old were you when you were first discovering fashion?

Octavius La Rosa: 14. I was looking on the internet or at whatever I could find. I just took a deep dive and…

Never came back?

Exactly. One thing led to another and I started finding weirder and wackier stuff. There was this one Australian designer that I really liked called Material Boy. I was obsessed with Bernhard Willhelm as well. It was very exciting, like nothing I'd ever seen. As though I'd been granted access to a whole new secret world I hitherto hadn't known existed.

I don't even know why or what drew me to it. There's no real reason and I can't explain it. But something clicked inside of me. Because before that I was really very normal… I did always love collecting though, so that's a common thread for sure.

What was the first Comme piece you purchased?

It was a black and white checkerboard shirt from SS2001.

Are there any particular pieces or eras that you cherish most?

There's a lot that I do love very much. It's hard to pick just one. Maybe the pieces from the ‘97 summer ‘Body Meets Dress’ [Comme des Garçons] collection. And also, the recent Comme runway pieces.  

How were able to finance your collection from such a young age? These pieces aren’t exactly cheap…

They kind of were cheap when I started… Now they're certainly not. But I managed to build up a pretty significant portion of it when I was young. I was working at Big W and buying pieces, as well as selling them online too. So I was making money like that.

What do you wear when you’re watching TV? Or going to Woolworths? Is it always Comme?

Yeah. It's just, that's all I've got.

I’m jealous… [Laughs.] Do you wear any other labels outside of the dot COMME realm?

No, I don't. And it's not that I don't like other brands, it's just that I've got so many clothes.

Thinking about the designers you collect, so many pieces challenge the notion of what people collectively understand as ‘wearability.’ What is wearability’s place in fashion? And what do you think we get out of fashion if it isn't inherently wearable?

That’s hard to explain. I don't know... I mean, I wouldn't necessarily recommend wearing clothing that's impractical. What I get out of it is, I guess I just get inspired. It makes me feel more whole in a way, more myself when I’m wearing them. I don’t see them as crazy outfits.

You’ve been collecting for well over 10 years now. What has been your biggest learning as a collector?

I think I was really successful because, from the beginning, I took a very research-based approach. I was just obsessed with finding out everything about the brand and so it became much easier for me to kind of track down the pieces that I wanted to look for. A lot of the research is just looking through the old collections, finding pieces that resonate with me and developing a style of my own.

Has blending business with collecting taken any joy out of the latter for you?

I've always separated the two. I do think that I could make what I’m doing so much more successful if I were able to part with the pieces that I love, but I just can't.

There are other sellers who have come into the market now and are willing to. They're probably not collectors in the same way I am, they're just really into the clothes. It's hard to compete with people who are willing to sell the best pieces because I'm not. But it’s getting easier now because I have so many pieces that it's hard to find anything that’s missing. So now I can kind of sell the really good pieces as well. It was a long road getting to this point though.

What do you think makes it so hard to part with certain pieces?

Just as a collector, I want to be the best. I can’t let go of pieces that are important to the collection. It's a weird way to live. Like, why am I collecting these objects?

I guess the better question then would be, what do you see as the most brilliant part of Rei Kawakubo’s work?

She's unabashedly striving for the unexplored and testing the regions of what clothing can be.

My final question for you: what’s an outfit compliment you’ve never forgotten?

A lady once stopped me on the street and thanked me for making her smile - it was the first time since her daughter had passed away.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photographer Charles Dennington @ M.A.P

Stylist and Director Charlotte Agnew

Hair Madison Voloshin @ Assembly Agency

Beauty Isabella Schimid @ Assembly Agency

Model Anjali Torvi @ Priscillas

Location China Heights Studio and Gallery

Words by Hilary Bourke