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From multidisciplinary artist to collaborating with Ronald van der Kemp: This is the new denim generation

By Sylvana Lijbaart


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Fashion |Interview

From left to right: Trinity Williams, Jan de Vries, Bowie Klaassen and Anna-Mae van Gorkum. Credits: Mika Jansen for House of Denim

What better time to look ahead and zoom in on the new denim generation than at the end of this month of April, Kingpins month?

When it comes to this new generation of denim designers, more specifically those based in the Netherlands, some not only want to conquer the denim industry but are also looking for opportunities in the art world, while others are working with Dutch high-end fashion designer Ronald van der Kemp.

In any case, it is clear that there is a new batch of creators ready to show what they have to offer. What makes designing with denim so interesting to them? FashionUnited asks Anna Mae van Gorkum, Trinity Williams, Jan de Vries and Bowie Klaassen, who are all part of the House of Denim Foundation's Talent Incubator Programme, supported by the PVH Foundation.

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Anna-Mae van Gorkum. Credits: Mika Jansen for House of Denim

Anna Mae van Gorkum (18), multidisciplinary artist

Anna Mae van Gorkum considers herself a multidisciplinary artist. ‘Difficult word, isn't it?’ she laughs. And it certainly is, but for someone who wants to bring art, fashion and photography together, it seems to be the right description. Van Gorkum dreams of creating her own exhibition for a museum in Paris. ‘It seems very cool to see my bags, photos of my creations and paintings come together in one project. I'm going for the full picture.’

Van Gorkum launched her own label in October 2023, called Maetrix - a fashion brand with an extraordinary vision, inspired by making mistakes and searching for oneself.

Can you tell a bit more about Maetrix?

‘Maetrix comes from the concept of making mistakes. I had one idea in the beginning: I wanted my bags not to collapse when someone puts them down. They should stay upright. So, I experimented with fabrics and materials that made the denim stay upright. In that process, I made a lot of mistakes. For example, cracks appeared in what I applied on the denim fabric. I didn't like that at first at all, but it eventually led me to the design it ended up being.’

What material do you use for your designs?

Laughs: ‘That's the blacksmith's secret.’

What is it like to set up your own brand at such a young age?

‘Super cool and unthinkable, but not impossible. I stepped into House of Denim's Jean School in April last year as a student with no immediate goal. I did have a dream, but I didn't know how to achieve it. That's where House of Denim helped me a lot; from how to design something to building my label. So when I see how my dream has come true within a short year, I never expected it.’

How do you describe yourself as a denim designer?

‘I see myself as someone who very much wants to make a change in the denim industry. I think as creatively as possible. What I design hardly looks like denim anymore and is more like leather. At least, designers can easily see with the naked eye that it is denim, but people who are not in the fashion world are less likely to make that association, in my experience.’

‘Rick Owens is my big example. I especially like the shapes he incorporates into his designs. Even more specifically, I get a lot of inspiration from the collaboration between Paradoxe Paris and Rick Owens. The 'frayed patches' they used have a very cool effect, I think. I don't see this come by very often, so it's really my thing.’

What advice would you give a future denim designer?

‘Stay as motivated as possible and try to make as many connections as possible,’ the designer says.

‘Also, make as many mistakes as possible.’ Laughs: ‘It sounds crazy, but by making a lot of mistakes, you learn a lot. If you look at me, I am here precisely because I made mistakes. I designed a bag from my mistakes, so to speak.’

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Trinity Williams. Credits: Mika Jansen for House of Denim

Trinity Williams (19), denim designer

For Trinity Williams (19), denim is the easiest fabric to work with. ‘Denim comes in so many different forms. You can manipulate it to make it your own, but it's also beautiful in its own way. Denim also changes as it wears, it never stays the same.’ And for Williams, that brings a lot of creative freedom. As Williams says: ‘Denim is just fab.’

How did you get into the denim world?

‘Through House of Denim. I had to do an internship in my second year of my degree in fashion design. That was about three years ago and after that, I stayed here. I learnt everything related to denim at House of Denim. Besides, I was introduced to the industry by it.’ Laughs: ‘House of Denim is basically an out-of-control dorm where everyone learns discipline and gets a push in the right direction that we wouldn't normally just get.’

What kind of denim designer are you?

‘I like to experiment with fabric manipulation. I love transforming fabric into something it wasn't before. In doing so, I play a lot with shapes and silhouette, where the body plays a big role. I have also started studying anatomy and physiology, because I want to understand the human body in order to make really beautiful clothes for every body type. I want to make clothes that fit in a way that people have never thought of before.’

'Apart from that, I also want people, when they look at my designs, to keep seeing new things all the time. The longer you look at it, the more things you see. Whoever wears my garments should just feel like a superhero.’

Which design are you most proud of?

Casually: ‘To be honest, I am proud of everything I have made and what I am going to make. My first pair of trousers was a great eye-opener for me. It made me realise that anything is possible. You really can make anything you put your mind to.’

‘If I have to choose something, I am most proud of the Twenty Pocket Jeans. The idea to make those jeans came about at the beginning of my internship at House of Denim. I had to create a design and only had one thing in my mind: the trousers I wanted when I was a kid.

At the time, I didn't know how to get those trousers and later I thought I could never afford them. Back then, I thought: how can I make those trousers myself? In a better version? When I had to make trousers here [at House of Denim, ed.], I knew right away: I'm going to make that pair of trousers from my youth, in these colours and I'll put the pockets on them this way. In the end, I also like these 'Twenty Pocket Jeans' much better than the trousers I used to want as a child.’

Proud: ‘The actor of the film Hardcore Never Dies, Joes Brauers, also wore these jeans. I think that's really hardcore.’

What is your ultimate denim dream?

‘I eventually want to know everything about denim and be able to make anything with it. I also want to disregard the fashion calendar, seasons and certain deadlines. In short, I let go of the rules of the fashion industry.

I want to be able to make and release what and when I want. I want to give myself the time to make something really beautiful, where a lot of time is put into it without being frazzled.’

‘I see now that everyone imitates each other - everyone is stuck in their comfort zone. Nobody dares to think out of the box and do the same thing, but in an 'original' way. The message I want to be able to pass on later: Put time into what you make until you fully understand it and launch your designs only when you stand behind them 100 per cent.’

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Jan de Vries. Credits: Mika Jansen for House of Denim

Jan de Vries (19), denim designer

Jan de Vries could not find his way in the regular school system. He did not match with the teachers and the level was not what he expected. ‘I started making clothes at quite a young age, so I already had some experience. When a 10-week course from House of Denim came my way, my counsellor encouraged me to take it.’

Since then, De Vries hasn't let go of House of Denim and now works for big stars in the fashion industry, including Ronald van der Kemp, and teaches the 'Make Your Own Jeans' course at House of Denim.

What made you become a denim designer?

‘From a young age, I have been playing around with denim. It started with customising jeans. That's when I fell in love with denim, because I saw that you can do so many things with it. Denim seems very simple, but you can literally do anything with it. I love working with denim.’

How do you describe your design style?

‘I always start with something small and often that is something with a zipper. Around that, I then build my design.’ Laughs: ‘My making process really goes in all directions and what I first have in my head then comes out looking completely different.’

Where does your fascination with zippers come from?

‘I think a zipper gives character to a garment. It's something that quickly attracts attention anyway, I think. I often use silver zippers, so this aspect is what really stands out. It makes the garment look tougher, a bit firmer.’

Who do you draw inspiration from?

‘Rick Owens, he doesn't necessarily work with denim but he does work with zippers. I also really like Ann Demeulemeester's work. That brand's silhouettes are just really beautiful and they pay a lot of attention to how the seams flow into each other. I'm working on that a lot myself.’

You work for Ronald van der Kemp. How did this collaboration come about?

Whispers: ‘I really do owe this collaboration to House of Denim. You don't get a connection like this overnight. House of Denim gave me several opportunities to help him.’

‘Ronald [Van der Kemp] asked me if I could help with fabric manipulation for an exhibition-style show he was doing in Paris. I started doing that with a few others. The last day, when we finished almost everything, I went to Ronald to drop everything off.

Then I saw from Ronald's face that something was wrong, so I asked if there was anything else I could do for him. He said that the jacket, which I was working on and had only done the fabric work for, should actually be taken to Paris that very next day.

I then cycled back to my studio, around 7.30pm, to make a jacket of it. I worked on that late into the night, after which I cycled back to Ronald. He then said: 'I love how you do this with passion and have been working on it late into the night for me. You'll hear from me again.'’ Proud: ‘And so that has happened. For example, we worked together on Steve Madden's latest show at Amsterdam Fashion Week.’

What do you ultimately want to achieve in your career as a (denim) designer?

‘I have my own label, Mabi Jeans, and a studio. I have my customers come by my workshop. There I take their measurements, have a coffee and see what they like. I make a garment from a customer's drawing or plan. I want to keep doing that forever. I would never have a whole collection produced. I want to keep everything in my own hands and keep the connection and interaction with my customers.’

What would you like to impart to the denim world?

Determined: ‘Make the perfect denim and don't produce fast fashion in large numbers again. I want everyone to love a particular garment because it is so beautiful. Yes, you pay for it, but then you have something that really belongs to and is for you. It will last a lifetime, so it doesn't have to end up in a landfill.’

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Bowie Klaassen. Credits: Mika Jansen for House of Denim

Bowie Klaassen (22), denim designer

Bowie Klaassen is a wallflower and, as he says himself, a chaotic person. When he entered the denim world, he also began his exploration of himself. It is no coincidence that his work is inspired by his own journey. It manifests itself in creations using straps and leftover fabrics, among other things.

What did your first denim design look like?

‘I started out working with patchwork designs. I used a lot of leftover fabrics. In the beginning, I used to collect all these little fabric patches from the ground or take them from next to the sewing machine. That's what I made my very first pair of trousers with.’

Your designs are inspired by your personal journey. Is that why you started designing with denim?

'That's right. My designs always come about because of things happening in my life. Denim itself is alive; the more often you wear it, the more things happen to it, the more it changes. That's what I love about it.’

Enthusiastically: ‘Imagine you have a pair of patchwork trousers. The more often you wear it and wash it, the more it starts to fray and the more the colours change. Eventually you have all different kinds of fabrics in your trousers, the whole structure of the trousers changes. That's great.’

How do you design garments?

‘I watch a lot of old films and observe the things I see in my life. For instance, the other day I saw a film about Edward Scissorhands. I'm hypermobile myself, so it corresponded to my hands because my hands are quite often crooked. I got inspired and then worked out a design.’

‘For example, I also made a suit with straps for the Bluest Monday exhibition. That refers to myself, because I am a wallflower - then you are often very introverted. That's why my label is also called Wallflower.’

What does your perfect denim design look like?

‘Something with as many leftover pieces and with as much fraying as possible. It has to be chaotic and have a raw edge. Then I'm completely satisfied.’

What are you striving for as a denim designer?

‘Above all, I actually want to share a thought: Not everything and everyone needs to be put into boxes.

These days, everything has to have a label attached to it, which brand it belongs to, for example. That doesn't have to happen at all. You should be able to be yourself and find something beautiful and fun to wear. Fashion is identity and that's what it's all about.’

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit from Dutch into English by Veerle Versteeg.

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