“I think that fetishism is a broad concept, it’s something you can obsess over,” David Viersen says. “I’m quite obsessive about a lot of things, to the point where I get so involved that I become engulfed by them.” This quality of being completely engrossed in a subject is palpable in Viersen’s character, as I listen to him unfold the narrative behind his second year BA collection, whilst flipping through his sketchbook in his Antwerp apartment.
Images of album covers by Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten (whom Viersen has been a fan of since the age of 14), run alongside screen captures from the films of Dario Argento, Roman Polanski, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Mark Reeder’s documentary B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin, and pervade the pages of his portfolio. “I figured I’d put a little bit of myself in there,” he says with a half-smile.
Reeder’s documentary, which was released only last year, showcases archive film footage of the art and music scene in 1980’s West Berlin, starring prominent artists who were active during the time, such as Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld. Also involved in the scene was German artist Salomé, who alongside Luciano Castelli formed the band Geile Tiere (“Horny Animals”). The photographic self-portraits created by Castelli, as well as the fantastical theatricality of the two artists combined, eventually led to Viersen looking into the practice of cross-dressing. As a happy coincidence, a similar feat was present in Polanski’s The Tenant — a film that had a potent influence on his collection — which sees its main character Trelkovsky (played by Polanski himself) experiment with dressing up as a woman.
Curious to know what the designer’s relationship to drag practice is, he tells me: “I’m not really familiar with the scene, because I have no affiliation with it whatsoever, but I am intrigued by it, that’s for sure. I like the daringness of it.”
“In older movies, because the lighting was off some times or because it was so hot, you’re able to notice the actors sweating even though they’re in a winter scene.”
Many of the films include rather minute reoccurring themes then crept into Viersen’s work. In particular, the occurrence of women’s shoes in The Tenant, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Belle Captive, and Dario Argento’s Tenebre, all of which are credited for influencing the design behind some of the shoes in his collection. This pattern, however, is not entirely arbitrary, but one that he had recognised and was intrigued by after admitting to having a fetish for women’s shoes.
Not limited to taking inspiration from the sartorial elements of these films, its atmospheric quality is also something that Viersen had attempted to embrace in his lookbook. “What I like about these old movies is their grittiness,” he explains. “Today, when you watch a movie, you realise that no one is sweating. Whereas in older movies, because the lighting was off some times or because it was so hot, you’re able to notice the actors sweating even though they’re in a winter scene, and I like that.” Although none of this is apparent in his photographs, one has to appreciate his sentiment and attention to detail.
Titled Vanilla Kink, the collection seeks to form a marriage of the simplicity and often sombre quality of a menswear collection with a playful charm, by including elements such as (what he refers to as) ‘man purses’, leather underpants with a furry crotch and white jeans with a slit at the back that exposes one’s derrière. While Viersen had not produced his collection with the intention for it to be gender fluid, nor to question or subvert gender roles, it does effectively achieve the two.
Listening to Viersen discuss his interests, the designer could be considered what one would refer to as a fan, and a part of his work – a form of fan art. Indeed, such a label might be unpalatable, but he undeniably possesses the level of passion and enthusiasm as one. Of course, it comes as no surprise for a designer to manifest his or her personal interests into their work, but what demonstrates the quality of Viersen’s work lies in the subtle conveyance of his references, in contrast to what can (and has) often result in blatantly literal interpretations of specific cultural references and thus appearing tacky. By carefully adopting specific elements from a range of materials, it serves as an indicator towards the level of investment he has in his ‘research’ material. Even without knowledge of the context in which his garments were made, one is able to celebrate the well made collection it is at the end of the day.
Words by Alysha Lee
All images courtesy of David Viersen
Photography by Lee Wei Swee