You graduated from the Antwerp Fashion Department in 1998, together with Haider Ackermann, Kris Van Assche and Bernhard Wilhelm. Since the ten years that you lived and worked in New York, the fashion business has changed a lot. Is there still a place for you as a designer?
The traditional fashion business is -as far as I am concerned- outdated. The current trend is as follows: we show a collection on the catwalk, exhibit it in a showroom, sell it to a couple of shops, and then deliver it to them six months later. But in those boutiques you no longer feel how that collection was presented as a whole. The sales personnel usually don’t know the whole story behind it either. Sixty percent of what we as designers pour into a collection gets lost along the way. I don’t feel happy with that process anymore. I want to do more project-based work, more focused collaborations. I am also going to start some projects myself, some of which will be commercial and some of which will simply create buzz.
You were one of the first fashion designers to combine sportswear and tailoring into one coherent look. In fact, that’s why you were brought in by the American sportswear brand Under Armour, a competitor of Nike and Adidas. What can we expect in the future?
My involvement with Under Armour is nearing the end. It was an incredibly intense project that took up a lot of my time and energy. The direction the company now is taking is different from the one they initially hired me for. They are more focused on the past and want to continue to build on it. That’s not my vision of fashion. But that’s just how it goes: when this type of company runs into financial problems, the resort to restructuring. I am meanwhile engaged in other projects and collaborations.
You recently collaborated with Tanguy Van Quickenborne, who is in the natural stone business. What exactly did that entail?
I’ve known Tanguy for quite some time and had been wanting to set up something with him. My first show at Pitti Uomo, the men’s fashion fair in Florence, was the ideal opportunity. I integrated marble in a fashion collection with pads and key chains, inspired by the shoulder and knee protectors used in skating, a subculture I grew up in. I made marble ‘wearable’, in combination with softer fashion fabrics such as leather. At the same time Tanguy and I jointly developed a bookend in natural stone. We also worked on a limited-edition book that explained the whole design and development process behind the collection. I found it extremely exciting to, for once, create something that lies outside the world of fashion.
What is it exactly about natural stone that inspires you?
What Tanguy does goes so much further than supplying natural stone to real-estate developers or people that want a kitchen-table top. He’s expanding Van Den Weghe in a unique manner, by means of very focussed collaborations with artists, fashion designers, cooks, designers, architects, and what have you. Thanks to his open outlook on life, he breaks through barriers. Through this approach he helps you to observe marble and natural stone from a different angle. Marble is a precious product in and of itself, and when pulled out of its traditional context, it becomes even more precious.
Craftsmanship and technical innovation: two elements that characterise both the world of natural stone and your vision of fashion.
A lot of fashion these days is purely visual: a buzz is born on instagram, it is picked up massively, and then dies a quick death. That’s not what I’m after. A fashion designer like me spends much time on craftsmanship and the ‘architecture’ of fashion. A fashion item that has been ‘built’ with a love of fabrics and attention to detail has its price. Such quality requires an explanation that goes beyond a pretty picture on instagram. For me, in fashion everything starts with craft techniques, but without losing sight of innovation. It’s the same with natural stone: the material is the same as centuries ago, but the days of hammer and chisel are gone forever. What happens when craftsmanship and technology come together fascinated me from day one when I was designing technical clothing for Adidas. This is exciting in fashion, but also in architecture, design, and interior- three of my other passions.