martes, 15 de octubre de 2013

Fashion in The Netherlands: Ella Brouwer

Pioneering in the field of 3D printed garments, and with fashion designers constantly merging technology with fashion, the Netherlands is on top of their game. This avant-garde fashion hub proudly holds Iris van Herpen and Viktor and Rolf as synonyms of Dutch fashion. I got a chance to talk to Ella Brouwer, a soon-to-be fashion design graduate from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. This is a fashion school that not only has its own shop that sell student’s work, but it also has its own magazine, leaving any fashion student green with envy.

Ella Brouwer

The Netherlands, often referred to as Holland, is a country that has become notable for having a liberal government. Indeed, when I say liberal, I am also referring to the fact that you can still smoke cannabis in coffee shops. But put that thought aside for a moment. Besides that, the Netherlands is actually one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Historically, their government has shown great tolerance towards different religions and consequently a free-thinking culture has been built. Their approach to fashion is equally iconoclastic. Dutch designers are constantly innovating in garment construction processes and creating clothes that inspire and catch worldwide attention.

Born in Groningen, in the north side of Netherlands, Ella chose to move to Amsterdam to study fashion. She is just about to start her last year at AMFI (Amsterdam Fashion Institute), and with a sweet and timid personality she was lovely in every step of our interview. She had big sparkling blue-grey eyes, and a sweet smile that was highlighted by her intense red lipstick. She was wearing a big-chained necklace and several bracelets on her wrist. Occasionally blushing, Ella tried to answer very honestly every question that I asked her.

“I think if I look at the whole Netherlands, mostly people just buy clothes when it’s comfy. So jeans and jerseys are think, number one in the Netherlands. But of course there is a whole group of trendsetters, people that want to be really fashionable. I think that’s normal in every country. I think most of people want to feel comfortable in their clothes. When you look at Italian people, they look very classy and chic, and they are more into designer labels. In the Netherlands it’s not that much, quite a few people, but mostly comfy clothes,” said Ella.

New independent designers keep emerging, and they have a lot of support from different associations, some offering awards like the Mini Young Designer Award. There are also several shops that sell Dutch fashion all around Netherlands. This continuous emergence of new designers made me question how much the new designers are actually selling. “It’s not that much. I mean some celebrities are really walking around in designer clothes. But for the rest, I think it’s more for an international audience. I think here in Amsterdam there are also people who like to wear them. But yeah, it’s expensive also for most people I think.”

Being a country that is ahead of others in fashion design, it’s interesting to understand whether fashion is really important for Dutch people. Without hesitation Ella answered straight away, “yeah it is, I think also for also for myself. But it’s really a way of expressing yourself, so that’s really important. Also for young people my age they really want to stand for something and fashion can really help with that. Because you can really tell your own story, they want to be individual.” Did you grow up with a sense of fashion? “Not really, because I lived in the north part of Netherlands, a small village. So fashion is not that important. I do have to say from a young age it already had my attention. My mother said that when we were on the street I was always looking at people’s shoes. So for me it’s always been important.”

Cities like Arnhem and Amsterdam are the homes of outstanding fashion schools. ArtEZ Institute of the Arts is proud to enlist Viktor and Rolf and Iris van Herpen as their alumni. Moreover, looking at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, I was quite impressed on the whole program. Not only do they have a shop that sells student’s garments, but they also have their own label called INDIVIDUALS. Ella participated in the creation of the latest collection with other students. She explained how the garments are manufactured abroad and after that, sold across Netherlands and other countries.

There is also space for students who are interested in studying fashion management and branding. These students also get to showcase their abilities through several projects. One of them being a fashion magazine, this year called ‘Garment’. The magazine changes its name every year and it really shows how professional and full of initiative the students at AMFI are. This school with around 1,000 students seems to be a giant oven for creative designers and a paradise for us fashion lovers.

Dress from Ella's 'Disclosing Illusions' collection
AMFI is also into the promotion of sustainable fashion. So for a school project, Ella designed a sustainable green-grey dress as part of her ‘Disclosing Illusions’ collection. “What I did for ‘Disclosing Illusions’ was that I just used a square of fabric. Also for the dress underneath I did the same thing, so you don’t throw anything away. You could also wear it on two sides, so it was multifunctional and also the fabric was 100% wool. Because you can easily recycle 100% fabrics.” This wasn’t the only inspiration that Ella took, as she also used a Dutch textile technique: “with this technique you just make it smaller. A few years later when you make it loose, you still have lots of fabric.”

Netherlands itself is also a great promoter of Green Fashion. There are organizations like ‘Made-by’ that help designers incorporate sustainability into their designs. But on top of being green, Netherlands fashion is also well known for experimenting with technology. Famous Dutch fashion and technology pioneers include Iris van Herpen, who experiments with 3D printed garments. Daan Roosegaarde is the founder of Studio Roosegaarde, a studio dedicated to joining architecture, technology and fashion. Pauline van Dongen has been experimenting by merging fashion and solar panels.

So in this country that seems to have it all in terms of fashion design, are there any limitations for fashion students? After a long pause, Ella answers, “Hmmm no, not really.” The job opportunities field looks just as unlimited, “It really depends, what I really like is that some students who graduated before, they work at the H&M in Stockholm. One is working in the design department and other one is working in the printing department. When we graduate there’s always a sort of event in the World Fashion Centre. Then we have an event where all the graduates present their work. So everybody shows their portfolios, and the graduation work will also be in a fashion show. A lot of labels are going there just to see all the new young designers.”

Previously having studied retail, Ella found her way into fashion design and recently interned with Dutch designer Ilja Visser. Now starting her last year at AMFI, she is looking forward to finding work in Stockholm after graduation. With all the innovation in fashion design going on in this country, I could only think that London better watch out. A new fashion capital might emerge in the future, and it could be the Netherlands.

Check out more of Ella's work:

All pictures courtesy of Ella Brouwer

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Fashion in The Netherlands: Ella Brouwer is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 3.0 Unported License.

martes, 1 de octubre de 2013

Fashion in Bolivia: Fabiola Bernal Vargas

Bolivia is a country with enough cultural richness to make their designers feel inspired and is quickly building the necessary tools to shine within the South-American fashion scene. Fabiola Bernal Vargas is a student of UPSA (Private University of Santa Cruz de la Sierra), the only school in Bolivia that offers a bachelor degree in fashion. Presenting a delicately draped green dress at her school show, Fabiola flaunts the sewing and patternmaking skills that will take her far.

Fabiola wearing a jacket that she made herself
Fabiola was very serene with her words, and she seemed to have a lot of knowledge around the culture and fashion in Bolivia. Her black hair and slightly brownish skin seemed to make a perfect combination. The bad Internet connection only allowed me to see Fabiola’s face enough times to say hi and then I was just limited to hearing her voice.

Originally from Bermejo, and now based in Santa Cruz, Fabiola is a year away from graduation. Fabiola has been in Santa Cruz for three years after she took the decision to study fashion there. “I finally convinced my parents and they let me go to Santa Cruz. There’s this moment in which the dad doesn’t understand that his daughter wants to study fashion, but I made it, I made it.” I found Fabiola’s work through a fashion show that her school organizes once a year. When I asked for pictures of the dress that was in the show, she lamented  not being able to make a proper photoshoot after the show. She sold the dress to a quinceañera - a girl who was about to celebrate her 15 birthday - and who wanted the dress straight away.

The theme for the fashion show was ‘Santa Cruz, That’s how I am’, inspired in the city of Santa Cruz, the fashion capital of this country. Fabiola explained how the next show might be on myths and legends of Santa Cruz. The great effort from this school to make the students connected to their culture is quite surprising. Above all, the school focuses on preparing their students from a business point of view, so much that they have accounting classes. It also insists that the students sew and pattern-make the work themselves.

Bolivia is the only country in South America bar Paraguay that doesn’t have an official Zara store to fulfill the need of fast-fashion. Fabiola doesn’t buy any clothes from Bolivian shops but she promotes Bolivian fashion in her own way. “Look, I’m going to be honest with you. Five years ago I learned to sew properly, with patterns and everything. Since I know how to sew, it’s rare that I buy from a shop, I have to like it a lot for me to want it. So, most of the garments in my closet are made by me. I dress by Fabiola. I sew really well.” Very excited Fabiola explained how much she likes to go fabric hunting with a friend of hers who also sews her own clothes.

Bolivia’s fashion design is in development. The richness of their culture and their attachment to it, make it possible for designers to keep looking inside their country for inspiration. Bolivia has 36 different ethnic groups and indigenous people make up 60% of the population. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand how their fashion is building up.

There are also fashion shows dedicated to ‘La Cholita Paceña’ an icon in Bolivia, an indigenous woman recognizable for her typical garments. I asked Fabiola about it and with a lot of knowledge in the topic she explained, “there are designers dedicated just for them, the garments that they use are extremely expensive, it’s very elaborated. Many of the garments they use are made by hand, hand-embroidered, they use techniques like macramé. The work made for them is very meticulous.” I was very intrigued to hear about designers dedicated to making garments for the cholitas, so Fabiola kept telling me more about the expensive jewellery they wear, and then suggested, “It’s very interesting, if you ever come around to Bolivia, you’ll see how beautiful garments there are in this type of events. It’s very beautiful Bolivia, it has a lot of cultural richness, like Mexico.”

This was the first interview I was conducting in Spanish for a very long time and I felt closer to Mexico and to being able to compare it. However, the love and high-knowledge of the culture that Fabiola had, seemed stronger than in anybody else that I’ve interviewed. “Here’s it’s highly appreciated, there are many needs in terms of the textile and that kind of thing. Each region has it’s own thing, and different types of knitting. Santa Cruz uses different types of fibres. La Paz is a colder place so they use alpaca, vicuña, and those sort of animals, and Santa Cruz more vegetal fibres because of the heat. So it’s different but also interesting.”

The dress that Fabiola made for
UPSA's fashion show
Bolivian President Evo Morales had some influence in putting the traditional fabrics in the map when he asked Bolivian designer Beatriz Canedo Patiño, to make a suit made of alpaca for the Presidential election. Soon after that, the President imposed a so called ‘Evo Fashion’ by wearing a red alpaca jumper - called chompa – catching worldwide attention by breaking protocol rules dressed like this whilst visiting world leaders during 2006.

Nevertheless, Fabiola didn’t think the president’s government had made a difference in fashion in her country. “In fashion, honestly, no, I don’t think so, maybe there’s been an emphasis in the use of the national fibre like alpaca and vicuña.” Very up to speed with the fashion news of her country, Fabiola continued: “Mainly here in Santa Cruz there’s a big movement in the last couple of years. Well, in the last three-years that I’ve been here, I’ve been able to see that it’s grown a lot. More stores have been opened supporting new designers.”

Fabiola is considering the possibility of studying a course in Argentina or Chile for patternmaking, but she’s also interested in presenting a collection for Bolivia Fashion (Bolivia’s Fashion Week). Her voice turned tender when she recalled how she started in the first place. “I remember being 10 years old in a reunion with all classmates and the teacher was asking what do you want to study when you are older, and everyone was like: I want to be a doctor, I want to be this, I want to be a lawyer, and I said: I want to be a fashion designer. Everybody looked and me and said: What is that?!”, she laughed. “I was a kid, maybe I didn’t know what I was saying in that moment, but look how things turn up, I’m still with the same idea, I kept on and now I’m here.”

Fashion in Bolivia clearly has a strong connection to its culture, but does that limit Fabiola in any way? A bit, because sometimes one wants to design something out of the ordinary and people have a hard time accepting it because people like to dress the same. If the silk shirts are in fashion everybody wants to go to the nightclub with silk shirts, so you can understand. So people have a hard time accepting a completely different design.” Despite this, Bolivia’s fashion will hopefully keep on developing with this attachment to their culture and in a few years time it could be launched into the international scene with enough strength to empower South American fashion.

All pictures courtesy of Fabiola

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Fashion in Bolivia: Fabiola Bernal Vargas is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 3.0 Unported License.