Basic Instincts: Contemporary Dutch Fashion at the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem

By Zoe Dickens

Dutch fashion is receiving international recognition this month at Basic Instincts: Dutch Fashion in Context, an exhibition by Premsela (The Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion). The exhibition, which opened on 2nd June at the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem, features the work of five of the Netherlands best known designers: Iris van Herpen, Oda Pausma, Monique van Heist, Klavers van Engelen and Anne de Grijff.

Basic Instincts attempts to define contemporary Dutch design with a multidisciplinary approach – the work of the five fashion designers is shown alongside that of the country’s best photographers, product designers and architects. The focus is on globalisation and the importance of ‘Dutchness’ within an international context. As curator, Lucia Marchetti says in the exhibition’s innovative iPad App catalogue, I think Dutch designers [have] a very open concept of their work. They are aware that they also express a whole vision of things, a state of mind, through their products. That’s what we mean by Dutch creativity.

The work of the fashion designers ranges from extremely sculptural to surprisingly wearable. Each has been chosen for their personal vision and distinctive contribution to the unique Dutch fashion world. The exhibition is consequently divided into six ‘landscapes’, created by Scandinavian designer Henrik Vibskov, each of which centres around the work of one designer, with one dedicated to film and photography. Each ‘landscape’ is themed to demonstrate the way in which Dutch design promotes collaboration and experimentation on an international level.


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Perspectives – Oda Pausma


The first landscape of the exhibition, Perspectives, is a testimony to the multi-faceted modern world. Nothing, so Perspectives says, is explainable from just one point of view. Often our perspective gets in the way of the truth – hiding and changing the way we observe the world – broadly, understanding means to choose the good point of view.

The layered designs of Oda Pausma are a perfect fit for this theme. Her Hobohemian Heaven collection plays with the viewer’s perceptions of design and fabric. My work is always focused on the play with the vulnerability of women: I enlarge it, protect it, show it, hide it. A few years ago, someone described it as ‘sober chic’. I think this is really the essence of my collections. Bras are found to be cupless, trousers have strategically placed transparencies and what, at first glance, seems to be a classic black evening gown is in fact a backless apron.

Pausma’s designs form a focal point amongst pieces by product designers Gionata Gatto, Daphna Laurens and Frederike Top and architect Anne Holtrop. As with Pausma’s clothes, each of their designs aim to challenge traditional expectations. In their hands an island in the Ijmeer lake becomes a wellness spa, coat hangers are strung together to form a collar and a chair transforms into a tunnel which invites interaction. The theme of this landscape is truly encapsulated in four cast iron blocks by Daphna Laurens. Depending on which angle you view them from they read ‘Real’, ‘Lies’, ‘True’ or ‘Fake’.


Un-Designed – Monique van Heist


Un-Designed deals with the fast paced world of consumerism. We have so much, and we obtain it so quickly, that we are no longer able to decide when an object is useful or useless. This landscape questions the function of design in this environment. For modern designers perhaps generating new ideas, styles and objects is not the goal. Instead, an understanding of what already exists and how it can be used within new frameworks would be much more creatively challenging.

Monique van Heist, whose collection hellofashion takes pride of place in Un-Designed, creates for what she sees as the Dutch mentality: it’s sometimes even boring, but very clear, very practical, well done as far as fit and material goes. But underneath the surface, there is a lot of humour, serious emotion, and quality. hellofashion is an alternative to the two-season structure of the fashion industry and takes no interest in trends or even gendered designs. Van Heist creates classic, unisex clothes and lifestyle pieces inspired by the everyday – this way they can never go out of style and will never become useless.

Van Heist’s collection is accompanied by the work of product designers Pieke Bergmans and Lex Pott and the multi-disciplinary STEALTH.unlimited. Their almost surreal creations interrogate the nature of objects largely taken for granted. Lightbulbs pour from lampshades, rocks spontaneously form benches and colours are stripped back to their original components. It is difficult to leave this landscape without questioning the largely unnoticed aesthetics of everyday life.


Soft Future – Klavers van Engelen


The third landscape of the exhibition, Soft Future, envisions the designs of generations to come. This is not a brand new world but one that has learned and developed from our present moment – it is adaptable, flexible and open to evolution. The fluid shapes of garments by Klavers van Engelen perfectly emulate this vision of the future. Draped silhouettes and carefully placed embellishments mean their clothes look best when worn; the shape of the body and natural elements, such as the way wind plays with the fabric, displaying the sheer talent of the design duo.

Accompanying designs by LAB van Abbema, Sharon Geschiere, Studio Glithero, Bo Reudler, Pascal Smelik and Powerhouse Company reinforce this study of the relationship between the natural and the manmade. Typeface is used to represent the inability of computers to convey emotion, weeds of inner London pavements create intricate botanical vases and an assortment of everyday objects are fashioned in the form of branches. This is the face of our harmonious future.


Metropolitan Sleek – Anne de Grijff


In modern times the city has been integral to the development of the arts. Metropolitan Sleek looks at the ‘standard’ aesthetics of the city; coding the way buildings, objects and even people should look and feel. Anne de Grijff’s designs are perfect for the city dweller. Simply tailored and almost Calvinistic in their palette of grey, black and white, they afford the urban liver just the desired amount of edgy mystery.

The more solid aspects of the city are seen in works by Scholten & Baijings and WHIM Architecture. Minimal homewares and clever solutions to modern problems make these designs the dream of the urbanite. From the smallest steel espresso cup to an entire island made from the plastic waste of the city, these designers are pushing the life of the metropolis to new extremes.


Slow Forward – Iris van Herpen


The second landscape to look to the future, Slow Forward, places an investigative eye on the future of design practices. Handcrafting and artisanal practice replace the production line, leaving room for hybridity, rawness and the avant-garde. Iris van Herpen’s structural creations exemplify this new approach. Blending handcrafting with cutting-edge 3D printing techniques, van Herpen creates futuristic, sculptural garments which are just as much about art as they are fashion.

Van Herpen’s garments are set off against a background of origami-style pieces by Paula Arntzen and BCXSY. This ancient technique gives lamps, sunglasses and even tops an unexpectedly modern feel. The future of sustainable design is considered in pieces by Georgios Maridakis, Jo Meesters, Siba Sahabi and Doepel Strijkers Architects. Paper vases, bioclimatic buildings and waterproof objects created from paper waste are just a selection of designs advocated for the environmentally conscious development of aesthetics.


The last landscape of the exhibition, Panopticon, is a cross between a cinema and a lounge area allowing visitors to view films, photographs and other media concerned with Dutch design. Work by awarding winning photographers Paul Kooiker and Erwin Olaf, along with many other eminent Dutch photographers, examines the way fashion is presented on a global level. Also displayed in Panopticon is a selection of work by numerous fine artists from the Netherlands. The pieces all in some way give a new insight on a perspective of the fashion industry – be that the way the clothes themselves are expressed or the subtle voyeurism which is integral to the fashion industry.

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Written by Zoe Dickens

Zoe Dickens

Zoe is a 21 year old freelance writer and student from London. She recently graduated from an undergraduate English degree at the University of Exeter and is now studying MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins. Her education has been undertaken with the dream of persuing a career as a fashion journalist. Coming from a family with very few artistic interests, this was a chance career choice found after picking up an old copy of Vogue in the sixth form common room aged 16. She immediately went home, took out a subscription and has never looked back. As well as working as a freelance writer for various websites and publications, Zoe runs her own blog, The Bare Wall, and is a contributing writer to student run Central Saint Martins magazine, 1Granary.