As a young art gallery initiative, art enthusiast Stephanie Schuitemaker and designer Diek Pothoven set out to offer emerging design talent a platform at this month’s Fashion + Design Festival Arnhem. Currently, Stephanie runs the gallery in which the designs of Diek Pothoven and his co-founded label MARTAN are displayed and sold. Having produced the first two exhibitions by SCHUIT, Diek now focuses solely on pursuing a career as a fashion designer. Detached from commercial pressures, their space allows each individual piece to radiate in its own quality and allows craftsmanship to be viewed as a pre-eminent art form. Delivering a charming cross-section between design and art, the gallery challenges the valuation of fashion design in a world where clothes are being produced at an exceedingly fast pace. With fashion’s cycles currently running to a see-now-buy-now logic, the art space is a breath of air amidst the frenzied and suffocating pressures of the industry. The fashion focus is brought back to design and technical mastery, as well as the creative skill this implies.
Marking its century-long presence in the arts as an important and influential Dutch movement, De Stijl has had a pervading impact. SCHUIT took its 100-year anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate the power of the movement, and invited a number of former ArtEZ graduates to explore its influence in their artistic processes. Just moments before the opening of the month-long expo, designers Johannes Offerhaus, Lisa Konno, Barbara Langendijk and Joanne Vosloo spared Glamcult a brief moment to talk about the many ways they hope to challenge the fashion system and achieve meaningful exchange between the garment and the wearer. Their innovative pieces—which can be purchased on a made-to-measure basis—balance form and function, and aren’t dictated by the times nor push a defining aesthetic upon the wearer.
Following their own rules and design principles whilst creating garments that evoke an immediate need for self-reflection, the designers at SCHUIT represent a small part of today’s ‘modern’ design movement. Thinking this through, Barbara Langendijk suggests: “Modern design has to be challenging; it’s about design that’s flexible, serves several purposes and adapts over time or to varying contexts.” Debatable is whether notions of durability and transparency in design, which Joanne for one mentions, discredits the element that made fashion what it is today, namely ‘change.’ Fashion is change, if only this implies the illusion of it. The imposing of taste is what ensures the quick and continual change of styles in motion. And the fleeting nature of fashion has set a strain on the environment and the industry alike.
Each of the designers’ well-crafted constructions attempts to answer such present-day issues, experienced in the industry. Where Barbara allows her wearers to tailor the garment to suit their body with unusual but clever accessories, Johannes plays with the laws of gravity in a rotating skirt—creating new shapes and engendering movement. Joanne lets the wearer effortlessly alternate between a functional object and a fashionable item of dress, which is perfect for the age in which we have too much of everything (and too little substance).
Talking sustainability with Lisa, the designer stresses that having a wardrobe worth ten hangers doesn’t necessarily need to take the fun out of dressing. This is especially visible in the collection she produced in collaboration with Karin Vlug. Awarded a Global Denim Award in 2016, their clothes “are made so the wearer can construct many varieties of garments with just a few items of clothing, balancing the functional and the aesthetic.” She adds: “We believe sustainability doesn’t mean you have to have a timeless wardrobe—that’s boring! We like the transformative aspect of fashion, so we wanted to offer that but also be minimal in the amount of material we use.”
When it comes to these designers, the transformative role of fashion in today’s society—think: De Stijl—is seamed through each well-crafted piece of social design. The clothes aim to engage with the wearer in a unique way, either through garments that invite the wearer to become part of the design process or by altering the behaviour patterns and our ways of viewing/valuing fashion. With fashion constantly recycling past styles onto the runway, Glamcult is curious whether design is truly able to invent a new sense of style. And though they agree that it’s “difficult to say at this given moment”, the designers of SCHUIT do believe innovation is achieved by “sticking to your own way of working and staying true to who you are as a designer.” Additionally, they feel that technology and digital innovations will likely “open doors to new aesthetics.” Visit their exhibition to find out for yourself.