Royal Academy Antwerp

Royal Academy Antwerp

Jan-Jan van Essche: the fashion designer embracing slowness

Talking with Jan-Jan van Essche in a tiny courtyard at the back of his Solar Shop in Antwerp — in which one can buy collected objects of desire as well as his clothing — is like being pushed into a meditative state. On day two of a trip to the Belgian city, I meet the fashion designer who takes a very craft-based and non-seasonal approach to creating garments with soul and longevity, and it takes a mental effort to adapt to his stillness when living and working in a city as fast-paced as London. His long dreadlocks are draped on the table between us, on which a glass of water stands, and a phone. Halfway through the conversation, his friend Charlotte Koopman — a chef who creates food in Het Bos that tastes as soulful as Jan-Jan’s clothes (a testimony: we ate it) — pops in and out of a kitchen at the very back of the shop. The conversation we had on one of the hottest days of the year, while both wearing black, follows below.

Putting Together the Antwerp Six: Geert Bruloot

Geert Bruloot does not sit calmly when he speaks. His hands make great gestures when he talks about the Belgian economy, slavery, or the essence of having a philosophy when deciding to make a career out of fashion design. He switches off his phone when it rings with the same enthusiastic energy as with which he chats. It’s present even when he, every once in a while, pours himself a glass of water, sitting in the top-floor offices of the ModeMuseum in Antwerp, which also houses the Flanders Fashion Institute and the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Art. Bruloot, who founded the Antwerp-based shoe store Coccodrillo in 1984, has curated the upcoming shoe exhibition Foot Print, The Tracks of Shoes in Fashion which will open at the MoMu on Thursday 3rd of September. Many real-life Pinterest mood boards with printed images attached to each category stand just outside of the room where our conversation takes place. Asked about which categories dominate the exhibition, Geert explains: “As seven months is really a very short for preparing this kind of exhibition, we’ve tried to work with what we could get a hold of. Technically we needed a longer period for chasing loans from the big museums, and conceptually we had to work hard to convince the fashion houses that their past is equally important as the commercial values they are aiming for today. With more time for profound research, we would have gone through the great historical collections of the world, and would have been able to select older historical and indegenousfootwear that has inspired contemporary shoe design.” With impossible-to-walk-on heels scattered throughout, his moodboards don’t necessarily limit themselves to ‘wearability’. Not that that was the focus, anyhow. “Wearability has never been our first reference. From when we started our shoe store 32 years ago, creativity has always been our goal. When emotion, invention, creation, craft and fantasy can go together with technical development, construction and anatomical research, great fashion creations are born! Shoes can have many connotations: religion, fetish, war, survival, seduction, gender, status, dance, rebellion…”

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