When I was 15, I saw my first fashion film. It was a Prada feature named ‘Thunder Perfect Mind’, directed by Ridley & Jordan Scott, in which Daria Werbowy traipsed through Berlin in custom Miuccia while reciting a poem. It was alive with chic and frisson and I remember becoming instantly obsessed, endlessly sketching the outfits and re-watching what represented a perfect break from my small-town reality. Films like that allow fashion fiends to experience the movement of clothing that’s otherwise unattainable, breathing a dream to life, in a way.
That first contact with a dream is why you don’t want to miss out on the February 9 Antwerp screening of Act! Cut! Play!, a talent development project uniting creators from different disciplines to challenge and lift the medium of fashion film. For this first edition, the organisers - MoMu Antwerp, Dutch fashion platform FASHIONCLASH and cultural institute De Brakke Grond - asked three interdisciplinary teams consisting each of a fashion designer, film director and theatre-maker or choreographer to work together and create cutting-edge fashion films from scratch. Team 1 (“iii”) exists of Dutch filmmaker Femke Huurdeman, Dutch theatre-maker Suze Milius and Belgian-based German designer and artist Marie-Sophie Beinke. Beinke graduated from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts’ Fashion Department in 2015, and was awarded the first ever Honest By. Future Fashion Designer Scholarship to develop her collections in a sustainable way. She has also since interned for Walter Van Beirendonck, most recently working on the AW17 ZWART show. Her designs are beautifully bright and patterned, inspired by her surroundings and art history. Team 2 (“Your Approval Is Not Essential”) is made up of Dutch choreographer Jelena Kostic, Belgian filmmaker Leen Michiels and Dutch design duo Schueller de Waal. Rens de Waal, an Academy of Fine Arts Maastricht grad, and German-born Philipp Schueller, who graduated from London’s Royal College of Art, both used to work for big labels like Hugo Boss and H&M, but decided to scale back and team up in 2014 to shake up womenswear in The Netherlands and beyond, with their signature dose of humour and caustic wit. The third team (“The Parallel Pyramid Platform”) put together by the Act! Cut! Play! project includes performer Dennis Vanderbroeck, filmmaker Daniel van Hauten and Belgian designer Emmanuel A. Ryngaert. Ryngaert graduated from the Antwerp Fashion Academy in 2016, with a striking collection inspired by modular furniture and Meccano toys (you can read the KNOTORYUS interview with Ryngaert in 2016’s Mirror Mirror On The Wall official Academy magazine). Together with Marie-Sophie Beinke, Ryngaert has designed a collection for the Post-Couture Collective, creating affordable and sustainable alternatives to fast fashion. Since graduation, Ryngaert has also interned for Raf Simons in Paris and is currently gearing up for the next step.
Because of all that talent coming together, KNOTORYUS had a chat with all four fashion designers working on the project about the lessons they learned collaboration, the over-styling of fashion today and going to town on a giant crinoline.
KNOTORYUS: How did you get involved in the Act!Cut!Play! project?
RENS DE WAAL: We were asked to join the project via Branko Popovic of FASHIONCLASH, he knew that we had done some small, creative films before, like working with a photographer duo and a Belgian model on a parody of an ordinary working day.
KNOTORYUS: Yes, your SS16 collection video with Kim Peers, I thought that one was excellent.
RENS DE WAAL: That’s the one. With the Act! Cut! Play! project the organisers wanted to make fashion film a bit more narrative and they saw a connection with that in our work so they got us involved. That’s how we were introduced to Leen, the director, and Jelena, our team’s choreographer.
PHILIPP SCHUELLER: We began meeting quite a while ago with Jelena and Leen and started out very abstract, looking at our inspirations and what we each wanted to express with our work. We’re all very different in that sense. The main thing Rens and I want to convey is a specific sort of humour or sarcastic note about fashion in connection to everyday life. Jelena and her dance company don’t shy away from heavy or political messaging, and she’s quite dark in her work. So we looked for ways to make the storyline satisfy everybody’s expectations. In the end, the film is not completely humoristic or serious, it’s a mixture. It took us quite a while to find a way to weave all of this together but it became quite an exciting blend, we think.
RENS DE WAAL: We portrayed a woman living her day-to-day life while being confronted with all of the rules and expectations she needs to fulfil because society says so. And then we bring in another character that starts to irritate her to show that there’s another way of living and behaving within these rules. It’s bit like freeing yourself from the clothes that society expects from you as a workaday person. Does that make sense?
KNOTORYUS: I’d say that’s a very good introduction. Marie-Sophie or Emmanuel, what can you tell us about your films?
EMMANUEL A. RYNGAERT: For us the fashion film was an opportunity to do something that wasn’t particularly fashion-y. I was approached by Dennis Vanderbroeck, our team’s director, whose work I knew from before. His team was looking to replace another member that couldn’t work on the project anymore and I was that person. We wanted to say something about fashion without using fashion, almost. Because apart from the visual aspect, it doesn’t have to be wearable, constructible or useable. We wanted to speak more about the structure of fashion and the world that we live in, which can be very competitive. The fashion industry is a bit of a hard-core industry where there’s a lot of competition and people trying to get ahead. We decided to make a fashion film about this: it’s set in a highly aestheticised game show. There are a lot of uniforms in it because I think there is a lot of sameness in fashion, a lot of people doing the same thing and repeating themselves. So, that’s why we went for the uniforms instead of very expressive garment.
KNOTORYUS: How did your team conceive the idea for your film “iii”, Marie-Sophie?
MARIE-SOPHIE BEINKE: I would actually like to say nothing at all about the movie. (laughs) I believe the film should speak for itself. I like the fact that when someone goes to our screening that a certain mystery surrounds it. I could give you an entire explanation about our thought process or message, but in the end, I like the idea that people, no matter from which background - film, theatre or fashion - can make up their own story with what they’re seeing. Because our movie is quite weird in a way. I have no idea how the selection of the team pairings was made but they ended up putting three women together in one group. And then there’s another group with three men. In the end, I’m not sure if your gender changes what you make but we tried to really think about the fact that we are three women working together and we reflected on what we want to say about fashion, theatre and art performance, of course, but also about femininity and women, about ourselves. It’s actually a very personal story. We cast an older woman in our film, it’s up to the viewer to think about why that is. It was very interesting to work with Suze and Femke and to experience something else than working with a fashion photographer or director. It felt challenging but also really rewarding and of course we had difficulties because everybody has their own personality and we are all very different. Every one of us could have been the creative director for the movie so at a certain point you need to divide the tasks. We constructed the entire story together but in the end I did the costumes and the other girls concentrated more the scenes. It was important for us to let that role division happen naturally.
KNOTORYUS: Was the experience the same for you, Rens and Philipp, did the collaboration flow naturally for you or was it more structured? RENS DE WAAL: We had to figure out for ourselves who was taking the lead, if someone was even taking the lead. Our director was very open and listened a lot to what we all thought because there was quite a contrast between all of us, and then she found a way to pour that into a script and a story somehow. It’s also like Marie-Sophie said, everyone has their own speciality and we don’t know how each other’s work is structured and what their methods are, but during the making of the script, it became more apparent how everyone worked. As designers it was interesting to let certain things go to improve the movement of the garment for choreography for instance. In the end it all came together naturally and it’s not really about our collection or the dance, it’s really about the story of the film and the characters.
KNOTORYUS: What did you think about collaborating in this way, Emmanuel?
EMMANUEL A. RYNGAERT: For us it was very challenging, definitely in the beginning, to find the balance between all of our fields. Everybody had a specific vision on how they like to structure things and what they prioritise. The most difficult thing for us was to come up with the concept since we were three creatives and we were all equal. If there had been one person to decide everything from the beginning, with the other two joining in later, it would’ve been easier. But it was very interesting and involved a lot of compromising and restarting. Sometimes we had too many ideas and then there weren’t enough. At some point everybody had to let go of certain ideas, to be able to move on and produce something in the end. There was a bit of time pressure too but sometimes that’s good because then you make instinctively good decisions.
KNOTORYUS: How did it feel different to design for a fashion film, to create costume design?
RENS DE WAAL: We didn’t really make costume designs, we used our collection and altered the clothes and the way the two characters connect within the clothing. We played with the idea of a twin set. A link between the outfits that support the characters. That’s what we really focused on, but it’s not that we dramatised our collection.
PHILIPP SCHUELLER: We normally use a couple of silhouettes or base forms for a long time. That’s what we wanted to do for the film, but also get inspired by the other disciplines. For example, we worked out this idea with the choreographer that we would use different fabrics to really capture the viewer with all of their senses. So we looked for materials that made specific sounds and found ways to incorporate them into the choreography. We looked at several pieces in a completely different way from how we would for a normal collection. That was very exciting.
MARIE-SOPHIE BEINKE: I made costumes especially for this movie and the fantastic thing about it was that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Femke and Suze gave me complete freedom. That’s fantastic, when you get a budget and can just make what you feel like doing. For me it was really important to create a silhouette. It’s not a historical costume or something, it’s a fashion silhouette. I wanted to create garments that are worth being seen in a movie. I had a friend help me and we did a lot of fittings. I made these huge crinoline dresses that I always dreamt of making. We had to do historical costumes at the Academy, but at that point I was doing menswear so I never made a crinoline and I had always dreamt of making a huge one. I did one that was like 3 metres wide.
KNOTORYUS: That’s pretty huge.
MARIE-SOPHIE BEINKE: It made me so happy, just to have the possibility to do that. And I hand-painted all of them, because I love painting and crafting too. It took ages but I enjoyed it.
KNOTORYUS: If you try something new and it ends up making you really happy, there’s nothing better than that, I think. As a Future Fashion Designer Scholarship winner, your work is known for being bold and colourful, but sustainable too. How did sustainability come into play for your team’s film, Marie-Sophie?
MARIE-SOPHIE BEINKE: We made prototypes of the designs and they were good so we also used some of them in the film. There was no printing involved, everything was made in Belgium so in a way it’s sustainable but that was not the focus of this movie. I work in a sustainable way in general since I won the Future Fashion Designer Scholarship, so I keep that in mind with everything I do.
KNOTORYUS: Emmanuel, you also studied interior design, how did the set and furniture design in your team’s film influence your design approach?
EMMANUEL A. RYNGAERT: Our film is about fashion but mostly about uniforms and the whole concept of the film more than the garments themselves. We needed 32 worker suits and because there was no budget to make the suits we decided to buy them and give them a treatment. One of the first concepts that we agreed on was that we wanted a big cast, strength through numbers. The power and image of having a lot of people together. It’s a lot about colours, tension and power struggle. There’s also a huge wooden sculpture that gets constructed during the film so I think the set design did influence me. I was more of an artistic director than a real fashion designer, I think. Even though I made the costumes, they were not as important. It was more about the idea or the power of a uniform.
KNOTORYUS: Your graduate collection was inspired by Meccano as well, what is it about a sense of utilitarianism in fashion that appeals to you?
EMMANUEL A. RYNGAERT: There’s a concept of construction that’s carried throughout the film and that’s also something that goes for my work. There’s a lot of abstraction and construction in both. Graduate collection Emmanuel A. Ryngaert
KNOTORYUS: Philipp and Rens, the way you design feels very free and I like how there’s always that element of humour, like an emoji patch on a jacket, for instance. Your film is called 'Your approval is not essential’. What’s the main message you’re trying to put out there with that and why is that important today?
PHILIPP SCHUELLER: Often when we start to think about collections or a shoot or a film, it starts with the strange habits people have in daily life. Basically, it comes from us working together in the studio, I think. We’re very specific people locked into a companionship and very often you have to think, eat and breathe another person’s weird habits. It always inspires us to see very specific features of people.
RENS DE WAAL: We like to use the normal to highlight the abnormal. Highlight the quirkiness that people have but that they are afraid to show because it’s not what is cool or accepted. That’s very inspiring and we kind of miss that in fashion and in the way people dress.
PHILIPP SCHUELLER: Fashion in general can be very over-stylised and in a way we want to do the opposite and use all the things that go wrong, all the imperfections. As an independent design duo we just don’t have the capacity to function like a bigger fashion house, so we actually want to use that as our strength, to portray the clumsiness of it all.
RENS DE WAAL: It’s also about keeping up the appearances of being a fabulous fashion designer. This idea that we need to be fabulous and glamorous is not what real life or fashion is about for us. That’s what we try to embrace: for us some things are just not feasible. For example, we put out a collection of blouses and the timing was kind of resort but we were also a bit too late. You have all of these fabulous resort shoots in glorious holiday destinations and we decided to shoot those “resort” blouses here in Amsterdam next to the Ij in the rain on a fake beach, where people walk their dog and there’s a big factory with smoke pouring out.
PHILIPP SCHUELLER: We were way too late to do a resort collection so we decided to just highlight the fact that we can’t really keep up with the system and we hope that people see the charm in it. Schueller de Waal Resort '17 & SS17
KNOTORYUS: You don’t seek the system’s approval.
RENS DE WAAL: No, we don’t want to. We always try to keep it light though, because we’re not anti-fashion but we just want to express our vision in a subtle way and show things with a bit of humour.
KNOTORYUS: Do you want to do more fashion films? Are there any concrete plans lined up?
MARIE-SOPHIE BEINKE: I would definitely want to do more.
EMMANUEL A. RYNGAERT: I would also like to do another one but something very different. I want to learn the lessons from this one because it was also a bit of an experiment as it was the first fashion film I’ve done. It’s always good to do something for a second time so you can push harder on certain things and just grow and learn.
RENS DE WAAL: I think this is our third film now and we love the medium, it’s a great way to show your clothes but also the story behind your brand and you can really communicate a strong message with film. For us, it’s always interesting to use that and to keep using that in the future.
PHILIPP SCHUELLER: Leen already asked us if we wanted to do a next movie and kind of caught us by surprise with it. (laughs) It was a super intense project and we really loved it but I don’t think we need to start the next one tomorrow. I think we need to digest it a little bit. But who knows, in a month's time we might be ready to dive back into a new film. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: What are each of you excited for that’s still happening in 2017?
MARIE-SOPHIE BEINKE: The collection we made for Post-Couture is running and the pieces are for sale on the website. And Suze, Femke and I just got the news today that our team’s fashion film was selected for the Bokeh South African Film Festival.
MARIE-SOPHIE BEINKE: I’m also planning on doing a group exhibition in Antwerp with some friends. That's what I really liked about this project: collaborating with people. I’d rather work with other people that I share something with and show our creations in a common space. We’ve been planning this for a long time but everyone is really busy. We had thought about going on a walk in the countryside in Belgium soon and take some tea and lunch to set the date. Or some schnapps. I’m going to paint for this exposition. I already put up a big white canvas and I have the ideas in my head so when I'm ready, I’ll just go for it.
KNOTORYUS: Sounds perfect.
EMMANUEL A. RYNGAERT: I’m currently talking to a company in China to collaborate on a leather goods collection. And in a couple of weeks, I’ll be going to New York for six months for an internship at Tim Coppens. I’m moving and we’ll see how it goes. If my visa comes through.
KNOTORYUS: That’s amazing. If you’re not somehow banned from the country as well by that time, that is.
EMMANUEL A. RYNGAERT: Exactly.
RENS DE WAAL: We did a lot of collaborations in 2016 and now we want to focus on Schueller De Waal again, also in sales. We’re going to go to Paris now for low-key showroom appointments and to take tiny baby steps towards a bigger future. It’s very niche what we do so we just need to have the right people on board, that’s also the biggest challenge in Paris.
PHILIPP SCHUELLER: In 2016 we needed to find a structure and a way to exist as a design studio. So we did certain big commissions that make it possible for us to sustain our collections. For this year, we want to perfect that structure to grow our brand and get it out there more.
KNOTORYUS: Thank you all so much for your time, I’ll see you on Thursday!