Understanding Dutch Fashion (Part II)

Iris van Herpen creation


Here is Part II of the cover story that I wrote for the winter issue of  the Access Magazine, The Hague based expatriate publication. This particular part examines various facets of Dutch fashion, its international positioning and outlook for the future


Experimental & Conceptual

Thus permeated by the Calvinist tradition of sobriety and purity, Dutch fashion is a unique expression of individual spirit rather than a collective identity.

In a society where every aspect of life is tightly regulated and consensus rules, fashion, for a long time a poor relation of other thriving design disciplines, is the unfettered universe to innovate, experiment, explore concepts and express your point of view. Often with a dose of irony.

Dutch fashion designers have always been averse to frills and the ostentatious. Instead, they focus on lines, construction and shapes. Since many designers come out of art schools Dutch fashion is more of an artistic occupation than a commercial activity. “Wearable, desirable creation” would not be a compliment to pay. “Conceptual and modern,” would.  In fact, the more conceptual the better.

Sara Vrugt Giant Embroidery project

Take Sara Vrugt, The Hague fashion ambassador 2011. Celebrated for her conceptual work in fashion, Sara in her twenties has already had a number of exhibitions to her credit, including at the reputable Gemeente Museum of The Hague. Her latest project a giant abstract embroidery piece, a collaborative effort which brought together community residents and all those interested in needle work, was exhibited at the Municipality House in the centre of The Hague.

“For a long time in this country designers earned fame and peer recognition not through the number of pieces sold, but the number of museum exhibitions, a logical consequence of the art subsidy structure when it is easier to get funding for an art project/initiative than setting up production lines. However this perception of fashion as an artistic pursuit only has been gradually giving way to the growing awareness of fashion as business” says Laura van Erkelens.

Daring and Eccentric

Wendy Troost, owner of The Hague based fashion PR company sees a certain dichotomy in Dutch fashion. “On the one hand, it is daring, known for its eccentricity. But on the other, our Dutch practical sense comes to the fore and designers make wearable clothes. So you have Jan Taminiau and Iris van Herpen and their most daring creations worn by Lady Gaga, and then there is G-Star, Scotch & Soda, and Mexx for the less extravagant folk.”

Well, Lady Gaga, the undisputed Queen of eccentrics, regularly goes Dutch in her sartorial choices. And what Lady Gaga wears the world notices

Lady Gaga wears Dutch Designer Jan Taminiau


And Starts Talking About

Iris van Herpen, a young Dutch designer who manipulates technology pushing the limits of fashion. For instance, she would combine rapid prototyping with traditional couture technique. She’ll cut strips of plastic, using a selective laser sintering machine, then arrange them into a garment by hand.

Jan Taminiau, a designer of choice for the fashion forward like Beyonce and Lady Gaga and the fashion royals –Princess Maxima.

United Nude

Shoes that fuse architecture, modern materials and innovation. Currently sold in over 40 countries and flagship stores in Amsterdam, (well worth a visit), New York, Shanghai, London.

International perception

Lady Gaga’s big clout endorsement and the new found “cool” status for Dutch fashion has yet to be translated into international acknowledgement and business success equal to that of Dutch design.

But change might be coming. And soon. The creative sector, including fashion is officially “the new darling” of the Dutch government. It has adopted a multi-pronged strategy for international positioning – identify markets of interest; market fashion and design through missions to these markets; invest in education and training; invest in collaborations (multi-design stores, private-public partnerships) and develop global alliances like, for example, with India, China, Germany, Turkey.

Moreover numerous organizations work to raise the international profile of Dutch fashion.

Dutch Fashion Foundation supports fashion talent through a number of high profile initiatives staged at home and international fashion capitals. It manages the Dutch Fashion Awards, a springboard for professional development. 2011 edition of the Awards took place on the 4th of November in The Hague.

Amsterdam International Fashion Week (AIFW) has carved a niche as a fun younger alternative to the Big Four- New York, Paris, Milan and London. Without forsaking the required glamour quotient, it is as a champion of green fashion and sustainable life style. AIFW is part of the Amsterdam Eco-cluster;  a collective of sustainable businesses under Amsterdam Innovation Motor. In July 2011 AIFW was awarded the ‘Best International Fashion Week’ Award by international sustainable lifestyle magazine Sublime.

Dutch Design Fashion and Architecture, DDFA: is a special programme for international positioning of the design, fashion and architecture sectors.

HTNK, fashion recruitment and consulting agency with particular focus on business skills for graduates and young designers

www.fashionnl. com founded by Laura van Erkelens is an independent online portal promoting the best in fashion talent in the Netherlands, a must read resource to all things fashion in the NL

What the future holds

Dutch are universally recognised for their design. Less so for their cuisine even though it is the Dutch who traded in spices.

In fashion it’s often like in the kitchen, it is about getting the balance right. Of heart and mind. Of spices and seasoning.

I hope that the new generation of fashion designers will take all the ingredients available, reign in the conceptual, season with business acumen and spice up with desirability to create that wonderful dish called Dutch fashion.  Not sizzling hot, but exquisitely spiced.  Perfectly balanced. Memorable. The one you’d like to wear again and again.

After all, it is all in the mix.