The enemy of corruption, terrorism, racism and greed, Curaçao-born Dutch designer Rushemy Botter has mobilized an army of kindred folk, flying their colours under the insignia of love. Botter crosses the heavy with the soft, holds his banner high, and wears his heart on his sleeve for his breakthrough collection.
Let’s start with one of the most apparent subjects: your ties with VFILES (the NYC platform for hot talent). How did the connection come about?
I had known about VFILES for a long time, and entered their contest with my graduate collection—actually, my girlfriend Lisi signed me up; she uploaded all my work! After a few weeks, I got the news that I was one of the winners. They called me late at night, and I couldn’t believe it…
At New York Fashion Week you were rubbing shoulders with all kinds of mentors, from Naomi Campbell to Jerry Lorenzo and Rihanna’s stylist Mel Ottenberg. What did you get from them?
Yes! Firstly, it was an amazing experience to be able to connect with people who have so much experience. I told them about the collection, we went through all the looks piece by piece, they told me what they liked, and listened to my inspiration. I felt a click with Lorenzo because he’s also a designer; we share the same passion. He got crazy about one jacket from the collection, so I made him one when I got back to Belgium.
What’s the story with Young Thug, who showed up unprompted on the VFILES runway to fix and style one of your models? What really happened?
I knew that he was going to wear an outfit from the collection because his stylist came by the showroom and picked a look for him to wear, but I never expected this to happen. I was amazed; I saw it happening on the screen backstage. Later his stylist told me that he wanted to do something to thank me, which turned out very successful— it went viral!
Let’s take it back a bit. How did you first become connected with design? Where does your creative energy come from?
When I was young I had a certain interest in clothing; I knew exactly what I wanted to put on to wear to school. I always knew that clothes make a difference. It wasn’t until I grew older I realized that fashion design was a profession. I find energy from people on the streets; I’m interested by those most unaware of fashion and dressing in the proper way. If you were to construe your style in a language of your own, how would it go? I want to tell a story with my designs. I find myself getting the best ideas when I combine several ideas, subjects or images, almost like mind works in collages. Not only collaged images, but the crossing of subjects finding each other.
Could you tell us the story of your trip to the Dominican Republic and how it inspired you?
I was visiting the family of my girlfriend in Santo Domingo, where I was inspired on every corner—especially by the people who live big parts of their life on the streets to earn a bit of money to get through the day. They work with what they have, and this leads to such creativity. This boy I saw had no pants, but he made it work with two sweaters instead: one he wore in the regular way, and the other he wore as pants to cover his small legs. I was amazed when I saw this, and it became the starting point of my collection.
In contrast to the picture of an innocent young boy, talk to us about the Mongrel Mob. How did biker gang inspiration come into the collection?
I came across New Zealand’s mighty Mongrel Mob through Jono Rotman’s work—a photographer who somehow managed to earn the mob’s trust and photograph them in a beautiful, fragile-yet-dark way. I started my research on the biker gang. What inspired me the most was that although they have a reputation as an incredibly violent gang, they’re still family to each other. They make their own values and rules; I see them as a tribe. They’re bold in their ways of showing disagreement with society’s rules.
Is this what sparked your fascination with patches, badges and insignia?
Yes, “My patch is my heart” is a phrase I borrowed from the Mongrel Mob. The patch is everything to them, showing their inclusion in the gang and family. My interpreted patches make use of words; they’re directly from my own heart. This collection is like a diary to me so messages are highly important. With today’s world mood, we need to raise our voices, say things out loud and keep the desire to change for the better. I feel the need to create messages about the injustice of racism, corruption and to stand up for refugees—everybody should walk free.
What does “walking free” mean to you?
Freedom… for me, it means that people can decide to do something, or go somewhere without any restraints. And most importantly, that people are not parted from their own family because of closed borders.
How did you come to work with delicate details like pressed flowers or ribboning to juxtapose military tropes and helmets?
I wanted to make use of typical symbols of violence and war, but introduce them in a more poetic way. The contrast of the softer symbols and material makes me able to tell my whole story.
Your “Ilen Boots” were designed in collaboration with René Van Den Berg. Can you talk a bit about this?
The collaboration with René was an amazing experience; his technical skill is incredible. I came to him with the sketch of the Chelsea boot. He made the first trial and during this process we had to overcome a lot of hitches. But this I find the most interesting process, here the most beautiful things happen. He eventually made eight pairs of shoes in three colourways.
Incredibly, you’re not even finished with your studies yet. What’s the focus for your final (MA) year of study in Antwerp? What lies in the future for Rushemy Botter?
I’m putting my focus on creating the looks of the new collection. I will be showing this June in Antwerp. After that I head to NYC to show again. I can’t reveal too much, but I also have a showroom planned…