Laboratory Work at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie
The Gerrit Rietveld Academie is Amsterdam’s premier arts university.This status has been attained through a combination of a selective intake of one class per year (resulting in just three fashion design and two textile graduates in 2012) and a curriculum which focuses on developing the individual.
The Rietveld does not produce form fitting designers.Students in all art specialities complete a general first year, called the Foundation Year, intended to provide grounding in arts after which students choose one of twelve specializations to continue for the next three years.In addition of Textiles and Fashion, the specialities offered include Fine Arts, Architecture, Graphic Design, Jewellery, Ceramics, Glass, Image & Language, Photography, Video, and Design Process.
The aim is to train students who can operate independently in the field of visual arts or design and becomes sources of artistic inspiration in their area of specialisation.
Fashion at the Rietveld is all about individual talent and interests. Students are grounded in the technical skills and design vocabulary necessary for any active designer whilst at the same time encouraged to push these boundaries in any and all ways.
The course attempts to fully immerse students in the contemporary art scene, stimulating research and experimentation through exhibitions and trade fairs.
Although the Rietveld is less concerned with a commercial approach, internships and extra-curricular collaborations are promoted to allow students to question current practices, refine their approach and gain useful contacts.
The ideal end result is an independent designer ready to step into the world and begin creating fashion in their own right.
The Rietveld fashion department has its own workshops, along with a number of shared ones for all important collaborations with students from other specialisations.
This community aspect is something the Rietveld is very keen to emphasize.
It is particularly proud of its international character, with around 50% of students and tutors coming from outside the Netherlands.
In their own words, We regard the bringing together of different cultures in our academy as a strength, challenging students and lecturers to take different perspectives.
The tutors on the fashion course are chosen for their experience and expertise within the fashion industry.
Mark Atkinson met and interviewed Niels Klavers
Niels Klavers has recently become head of fashion at the Rietveld. He is himself a graduate from the Academy. Among his achievement we should mention two prestigious awards won in 1998: the Dutch NPS Culture prize and the top award at French Festival des Arts de la Mode in Hyères. Niels is also one half of the fashion design duo Klavers van Engelen famous for its conceptual and fluid fashion designs. Their work has recently been covered at the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem in the exhibition Basic Instincts: Contemporary Dutch Fashion.
Niels, How have you enjoy your first year as head of the Fashion Department here, at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie?
The Academy is not new to me. I trained here and have been teaching in the Fashion department for a number of years now. This is a place I know well and love. I enjoy working with the students and help them develop their ideas; I feel strongly that what we do here matters.
Your own work for Klavers van Engelen is often said to be conceptual while very wearable. Are these qualities you encourage in the students collections?
No, not at all. The Academy’s understanding of fashion is very broad and is not constrained by trends or wearability. The only thing we really require is that the work produced by the students relates to the body.
This work does not need to be conceptual either; we welcome ideas and concepts but do not request them.
What seems much more important to us is how meaningful the work produced is to the artist who designed it. In that sense I do not encourage specific qualities in the student work but creativity, honesty and innovation.
How do you cultivate creativity?
Creativity is our main aim. Thanks to our broad understanding of fashion we are open to anything and everything in term of aesthetics, techniques and processes. We mix old and new materials and technologies, from knitted wool to laser cut neoprene.
Our search for creativity is helped by the fact that the Academy attracts headstrong students; they do not enrol here to follow trends.
This attitude is strengthened by our first year curriculum, the Foundation Year, which focus on the students’ personal artistic development.
We expect each creative individual nurtured at the Academy to make original statements, strong enough to be noticed. We expect their authentic nature to reflect today’s society.
For the first time this year, students of each year have shown their work on the catwalk.
Yes we wanted to give students this experience early on. Clearly the fact they had to produced designs to be shown added to the stress and work load. Showing one’s work is a big and sometime dangerous step for any artist; it is also an invaluable experience. It allows students to receive feedback from the audience and integrate this feedback in their own design process.
What role do you see graduates from the Academy fulfil in the industry?
Graduates from the Rietveld have the creative autonomy necessary to stand alone as designer but also the ability to work for existing labels, bringing their insights and ideas to an already functioning team. Fashion is about trying and exploring new things; at the Academy, we call this laboratory work. Our graduates know how to do it.
Further information can be found:
Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Gerrit Rietveld Graduate Fashion Show 2012