Ode to Dutch Fashion

Ode to Dutch Fashion at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague is the largest exhibition of Dutch Fashion to ever take place in The Netherlands. The museum, which houses one of the most important fashion collections in the world, is showcasing over 100 designs dating from the early Twentieth century to the present day offering a fascinating insight into the development of a style which although renowned for its idiosyncrasies and experimental elements is hard to pin down.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century Dutch Fashion was still in thrall to the Parisian couture houses and the first stand alone designers such as Joan Praetorius continued to follow their lead, although her clean lines combined with Dutch simplicity and quality soon began to garner her significant international attention in her own right.

Frans Molenaar's Graphic Designs in Black and White

It wasn’t until post World War II that designers such as Max Heymans, Dick Holthaus, Frans Molenaar and Fong Leng began to develop an increasingly Dutch aesthetic focusing on a monochrome palette with occasional bursts of bright colour and idiosyncratic touches.

The creation of the Fashion Design course at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem in the late 1950s was to prove hugely influential. It would eventually foster the talents of behemoths such as Viktor and Rolf and Iris van Herpen who have gone on to global recognition.

Iris Van Herpen's Futuristic Designs

It is perhaps Viktor and Rolf, who have been traversing the boundaries of art and fashion design since 1993, who for many are synonymous with the Dutch look, not least because they are one of the few Dutch designers to be honoured with a stand alone exhibition outside their home country; the Barbican staged a major retrospective in 2008.

Van Herpen, too, is a name which brings instant recognition. Her enthusiastic embracing of technology, rejecting traditional fabrics in favour of new materials which are then moulded into sculptural forms, has won her a global following. Her spectacular futuristic creations will undoubtedly be the highlight for many.

Aware that the earlier tribe of designers, many of whom are no longer practising, will be less familiar to many visitors, the curators have cleverly chosen to arrange the exhibition thematically rather than chronologically in a bid to highlight their influence on those who came after them. The themes include the colour blue, which has played an important role in Dutch craft since the creation of Delftware in the 17th century; geometry in the 1920s; colour; black and white and the concept of freedom. The 1990s, when Dutch fashion really began to take off globally is also given its own theme.

Viktor and Rolf’s delightfully quirky Delft blue high heeled clogs feature in the blue room alongside Frank Govers’ stunningly intricate sequinned embroidery, again inspired by Delftware. There is also the sublime gown designed by Jan Taminiau that Queen Maxima wore at the coronation of King Willem Alexander. The freedom theme, which curators chose as they considered it to be an important aspect to both Dutch Fashion and Culture, pairs Fong Leng’s spectacular 70s creations, infused with oriental inspired embroideries, with Ben Koster’s eye popping designs. Frans Molenaar’s graphic simplicity in monochrome provides some of the stand out pieces in the black and white section.

The entire exhibition is beautifully complemented by a catalogue featuring the photographs of Sabrina Bongiovanni, an Amsterdam photographer known for her abstract take on fashion photography and colourful yet minimalist images. She has taken 76 century spanning designs and photographed them in typically Dutch settings. One could argue that it is bordering on caricature to place a dress in the middle of a tulip field or beside a dyke but the images somehow manage to escape that fate, coming across instead as delightfully tongue in cheek. Much like the designs she is portraying they insist on defying convention.

Ode to Dutch Fashion at the Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag runs until 7th February.

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