Modes of Fashion

Amsterdam may not be a bona fide fashion capital, but it’s definitely a fashion playground. On the eve of Fashion Week, we asked three of the city’s leading fashion experts to discuss the latest trends in Dutch fashion, the up-and-coming designers, and the value of fashion in everyday life. And the good news is: everything is allowed.

By Steve Korver, 17-01-2008, cover feature, Amsterdam Weekly


JOFF (JOFF) Fashion editor of Blend magazine, co-curator of the Arnhem Fashion Biennale, and officially a designer who sporadically comes out with collections.

Ruud van der Peijl (RUUD) ‘The King of Style’ is a  stylist and photographer. As stylist he works mainly for G-Star on their shows and campaigns. As a photographer, he has exhibitions and contributes to magazines Blend and Link. He was honoured as ‘Dutch Fashion Icon Homme’ at the Dutch Fashion Awards.

Mo Veld (MO) Former fashion director at BLVD magazine and Het Parool, Mo Veld side-stepped into opinion leading marketing consulting for nearly a decade (Fanclub, Best Company) while still writing on fashion for Selfservice (Paris), Atmosphere (Tokyo) and such national titles as Amsterdam Index, AvantGarde, Marie Claire and REmagazine. She recently moved back into full time writing and consulting, specialising in Dutch fashion and media.  

So how would you define fashion?
I always find that a really annoying question…

That’s why I’m asking it.
I see it as a phenomena that occurs every now and then. Sometimes it’s right. Sometimes it’s wrong. And sometimes wrong is really nice. And other times, right is really wrong. So I don’t think there’s a real definition of fashion. But I do believe it includes art and music.
RUUD I more or less agree with JOFF, but I also think if you use the Dutch word, mode, it can more be described as the way you do things. The way you dress, behave, and how you spend and experience your time. All this is fashion. It’s a way to do things and experience things. I see it broader as well. Art, music, clothing—it’s all fashion to me.
MO Fashion, for me, is literally clothing, jewellery and all that. It’s an industry that includes media, models, photographers, retail, the works. Officially, the word ‘fashion’ refers to what a large group pick up on as a style. But these days, it more refers to what the forefront of the fashion elite is wearing or applauding. It’s about the new. Apart from that, fashion is the fastest discipline that translates what’s going on in the world into an actual shape. Architecture, for example, is much slower.

Why is fashion important?
JOFF One of the reasons is what Mo just said about it being one of the quickest art forms to translate something. Music is also. But that’s for the ears while fashion is for the eyes. But of course most people don’t look at it that way: they regard clothes as just clothes that you buy at H&M, wear for a few months and then go buy something else again. But on the other hand, that’s something I also like about fashion: it’s so disposable. It’s quick. Goes out, goes in.
MO The reason why it’s so great is because it’s about self expression. Living in a relatively free world like ours here, we can celebrate that to the ultimate. Of course, there are a lot of other forms of self expression such as speech, words, music, behaviour or the whole way of life you choose, but one of the interesting things about fashion is that you don’t have to say anything. You just wear it. Some people have a strong sense of that and it makes them who they are: Kleren maken de man. I truly believe that. If you feel bad, buy some shoes. Of course this is a cliché, but it does pick you up. If you wear something nice, or loud, or whatever mood you are in, it basically creates your reality. If you are a business man and you wear a great suit rather than a crappy one, at the end of the day you will at least feel more successful.
RUUD First impressions are often correct.
JOFF Yes, and all those people who say ‘I’m not interested in fashion’, also put something on in the morning and even if they don’t consciously think about it, they are translating something into what they are wearing, whether they think they’re fashionable or not. In the end, they belong to a certain group of people. People say they really like to wear this or wear that. Then there are probably at least dozens of other people who think the same way and probably wear the same things. So you may think you are being an individual in the way that you dress but at the same time unconsciously you’re actually associating yourself with a certain group. All these different subcultures exist even if you’re not aware of them and that’s the beauty of fashion. It doesn’t have to be something conscious.
MO It’s very tribal in that sense.

Do you think this lack of awareness to fashion accounts for the common misconception that fashion is elitist? Or that it’s just about the catwalk?
RUUD Everything that happens on the catwalk first happened on the street. It may be enlarged or exaggerated, but it always comes from the street. I take a lot of inspiration from homeless people and junkies. You see all these fabulously dressed people and they give sort of signs that I can use. They may not be concerned with fashion at all but they do inspire me. So that’s fashion as well.
JOFF People who aren’t in the profession often see it as being about catwalks, projects, etcetera, but they’re not aware that they too are ‘fashion’ and they are being influenced by it all the time. Maybe that’s the power of fashion. You can’t get away from it. Other forms of expression like paintings and sculptures are usually confined to a gallery, but fashion is everywhere.
MO You could compare it to Hollywood: what you see on the screen is also a reflection of what goes on in the world or what we aspire to at this moment in time. And of course, a lot of fashion goes on in Hollywood as well, so it all intertwines. Sure it’s a dream factory but it’s created by people who live in our world just like the rest of us.

Another stereotype is that women tend to be more sensitive to fashion.
That’s just not true anymore. The growing market for years has been on men’s fashion. That’s where things are happening. Men’s cosmetics are booming; fragrances for men are booming. In this way men are catching up really quickly with women. If you want to earn money, you should go into men’s fashion. There’s too much competition in women’s fashion.
MO Yes the world is becoming more feminine. It’s about time men shape up, especially in Holland. Women are emancipated in the sense that they dress nice or sexy for themselves now, and they start to demand the same from men.
JOFF ‘Women being emancipated’ sounds so old fashioned, and on the fashion level, it’s in fact the men that are getting emancipated.
RUUD Women have already walked down this path, but now men are dealing with being sex symbols. They have to be slim, go the gym, have no wrinkles and have wonderful hair. So it’s a very interesting field to watch.
JOFF Men can be more feminine today.
RUUD Yes, femininity was before only for homosexuals, and now all the feminine guys seem to be heterosexual, or bisexual. Actually one’s sexuality is no longer a concern, and that’s great.

So is there a particular fashion no-no these days? What’s completely ‘out’?
RUUD In fashion there’s so much happening, that there’s really not one dictate. It’s really very difficult to be out of fashion at the moment. [laughter]
JOFF I agree.
RUUD It’s really difficult to wear something that’s a real no-go. It all depends on how you wear it, the face you have, and the body you have—everything together. Current fashion is very free with a lot of taking from all kinds of influences. The past is still very important. The mixing up of styles and combining it with technology of today is, in my opinion, what’s happening right now. There’s nothing you can’t wear. Well there’s one thing you can’t wear: the Arafat scarf [as he displays the Arafat scarf he’s wearing.] [laughter]
MO For me the only no-go is to be a fashion victim and flash all the status symbols. That just proves you have no personal style whatsoever.

With Victor & Rolf based here and this relatively new Fashion Week, can we now call Amsterdam a fashion capital?
MO Yes and no. [laughter]
MO We are a much smaller city than the fashion capitals of the world. If we compare ourselves to New York, Paris or London, we’re not as exciting, but people who come here think we look terribly good.
RUUD A lot of companies come to shop in Amsterdam, or look for inspiration on the streets here. We may not have the industry, but there’s something happening that doesn’t need the actual industry to put Amsterdam on the map.
JOFF I don’t see Amsterdam as fashion capital. If we are, we’re an unconventional one. We’re certainly not the one presented during Fashion Week, especially because Dutch design is quite specific, and is such a playground, with so many interesting things going on. That’s what makes it interesting. In fact, if we were a London, New York or Paris, I wouldn’t find it interesting.
RUUD But if Copenhagen and Berlin are becoming fashion capitals, why not Amsterdam?
JOFF I just have a problem with the whole ‘fashion capital’ phrase. For me that suggests parties, champagne, and to me that’s not what fashion is about. It’s just the circus around it and not the new ways of presenting fashion.
RUUD But that’s also happening off schedule as well. For instance Red Light Fashion, where spaces are being made in the Wallen to both design and present fashion, would never have happened if we didn’t have Fashion Week. You have to start somewhere.
JOFF Of course.
MO Yes, and while Amsterdam made a very late move to embrace fashion, it’s made big steps in the last two years. The public awareness of fashion has grown immensely. While we’re a small country, we do have so much fashion talent. It’s not just Viktor & Rolf, there’s Lucas Ossendrijver at Lanvin…
RUUD Paul Helbers at Louis Vuitton…
MO Orson + Bodil, Spijkers en Spijkers. Klavers van Engelen, Conny Groenewegen, Corne Gabriels… There are so many, and let’s not forget Fantastic Man magazine…We have a very good name abroad.
RUUD I really love And Beyond JOFF Me too.
RUUD And of course WOLF/van Benthum. He should have been international for years.
JOFF And LEW are back…

Is there something that unites these Dutch designers?
There are always the clichés: that we are in one way Calvinistic, and since we are a small country, we’re open to many outside influences; that we have that stern way of looking at things, but with a slight touch of the romantic. But really the only thing that unites them is that they’re Dutch and they’re good.
MO Another generalisation, also visible in our design and architecture, is that we tend to use a very strong language. Even with the larger labels like G-Star, our fashion is always outspoken.
JOFF One thing I’m noticing with younger designers is that they do try to translate their concepts into something wearable. In the beginning of the 1990s, it was about deconstruction and minimalism. Beautiful things were created but they were real art pieces. Now they’re trying to incorporate their ideas into the functional with an eye for an international market. And that’s also an art in itself.
MO Yes, and Ruud and I come from a generation for which being commercial was a dirty word. If you’re successful, it no longer means you’re a bad artist. This even goes for art these days.

Is there less focus on the fashion runway today and more focus on other means of presenting new design?
RUUD Nothing beats the magic of a fashion show as a presentation. People have experimented with movies and installations, but those don’t really work. A fashion show is direct. You can almost touch it; you can see whether a fabric is woven or rich. On the internet, through a picture, you can only see the colour and the basic cut. But like JOFF says, there are many new ways to get yourself known.
JOFF Fashion is something physical. It’s made for the body. Of course it should be seen live. But the internet does allow you to present yourself in other different ways.
MO It’s an amazing marketing and networking tool. And your audience becomes worldwide. Niches are global niches these days which is a very interesting development.
RUUD When I was in fashion school, if there was a fashion show in Paris it might be two weeks later before you knew what went on. Now it’s the same day. Teachers back then didn’t know what was going on immediately, so even if I copied something they wouldn’t know it wasn’t original. [laughter]

Any other big changes over the last decade in Amsterdam—whether positive or negative?
Look at PC Hooftstraat: a decade ago it was Reflections and Shoebaloe, and now it’s Chanel and all that. I’m a bit cynical about this because Holland is apparently more into flashing the big labels than being proud of their own talents.
RUUD Yes, PC Hooftstraat has become an international street where you find all the brands, which is a good thing if you want to think global but the stores are selling the wrong stuff because they focus on the tastes of criminals and football players! [laughter] Then we have Cornelis Schuytstraat, which is more adventurous but still hardly selling any Dutch designers. The only entrepreneurs who go for Dutch design are SPRMRKT on Rozengracht and Coming Soon in Arnhem.
MO That’s a shop that really should be in Amsterdam, a really beautiful store highlighting all the people doing beautiful stuff here in Holland—and they’re sponsored by the city of Arnhem, by the way.
RUUD And Red Light Fashion will have a store opening this week and there are a lot of interesting designers involved.
JOFF The good thing about those initiatives is that they’re focused on the art of fashion, and that’s what Holland and fashion week should focus on.
RUUD But this will never happen without financial backing. For instance, who in Holland would have thought that Mercedes would sponsor the Dutch Fashion Awards?

So is Amsterdam ‘in the lift’? Are Dutch designers actually having international impact?
We are in the lift and getting there.
MO I think so too, and a lot has to do with us taking ourselves more seriously. That was always the problem with Holland. I remember how in the early days of Viktor & Rolf, when they focused so strongly on Paris and New York, people in Holland were saying, ‘Who do they think they are?’ It was all very negative. Now that they’re big and famous, everyone is proud of them.
RUUD That’s also because they give such a lovely Christmas borreltje! [laughter] We do have to get rid of this attitude of shame. We’re doing a great job, and the system isn’t right yet but at least it’s changing. When I had a label myself, nothing was happening at all. You couldn’t get into a magazine if you didn’t sell your collection in several shops. Now all the magazines in Holland are embracing Dutch fashion, whether they have a shop or not. That’s already a big change compared with ten years ago.
JOFF It’s not that I’m negative about the fashion week, but in the future I’d like to see it focus more on what makes Amsterdam, or Holland, so strong in fashion. Not so much about the partying.
RUUD I agree with you, partly. But partying happens everywhere.
JOFF Sure, it’s all part of it, but there should be more of a focus on those designers who are trying to make a change, making fashion as art.
RUUD I would propose that the big brands who show at the fashion week adopt one or two young designers and pay for their shows.
JOFF and MO That’s a great proposal.
RUUD I do think this Fashion Week is lacking in some of the interesting names because there’s not enough money. And I agree with JOFF that having fancy drinks with a few elite people is really not the way to go. But that said, I do like that glass of champagne anyway. [laughter]

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