Amsterdam Fashion Week

“Some journalists, mostly from the Netherlands, have kept complaining about the fact that Amsterdam is not Paris. Well, sure we’re not Paris. We’re still young. And we’re still growing,” the cheerful Carlo Wijnands told us during Amsterdam Fashion Week, for which he works as a program director and which he is determined to turn into a world-class showcase for Dutch creativity.

This 15th edition marked the third time international journalists were invited to take in about 20 shows over four days in the beautiful, water-logged city. In a way, a solid fashion industry would do justice to the Netherlands, a country that has incubated countless design, modeling, photography and publishing stars.

What also gives Amsterdam Fashion Week potential for growth is the fact that its organizers are open to criticism, inviting guests to give advice on how to improve this fledgling event. Well, fashion is always at its best when it happens organically, so maybe they could focus on the brilliant graduate students there. This country is indeed home to some of the best design schools in Europe (by the way, France still lags behind in this regard).

So no wonder that the most anticipated and interesting moment of the week was Lichting, a design contest sponsored by Gstar, gathering the 14 best students in the Netherlands. Arnhem’s Sanne Shepers, took home the coveted €10,000 prize, an odd choice, given that her color-blocked dresses, baring the models’ bellies and backs, paled in comparison to many other creations that night. For example, Lotte Mostert, from the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague, took her cues from Jewish men for a fine women’s collection of chunky ethnic-patterned woolen coats and wide-leg pants. Bram van Diepen‘s WWII army-inspired menswear showed an interesting exploration of volume, and an edgy sensibility.

But maybe the most memorable moment of the contest, and of this whole Amsterdam Fashion Week, was the menswear collection of Pablo Londono Sarria, a 26-year-old Rietveld Academy graduate who sent out a hip array of colorful sportswear pieces. Dubbed Pedes in Orbis (Walking in Circles), the show told the tale of a man collecting pieces as he walks through a desert. The strongest pieces included backpacks, one of which was a jumble of knits, plastic and rope (“trash becomes treasure,” to quote from the program notes), a vast tweed bermuda with mesh lining peeping under, a roomy T-shirt with a giant pelican pattern (pelicans are the ultimate carriers, according to the designer), and sneakers given an artsy-craftsy edge with bits of colorful rope.

Sarria hails from Colombia, emigrating to Sweden with his family when he was five years old. A promising talent, he studied textile print and crafts there, before applying for the textile department at Rietfield, but after seeing his work, the school directed him instead to the fashion department. “My studies at Rietveld were very tough, but I learned how to explore and research, and how to open my mind to new things,” he told me the day after the competition. What gives Sarria’s work special resonance is the fact that it echoes two of the most interesting designers in current menswear, Astrid Andersen and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci. Londono shares with them an interest in hip hop, sportswear, and black models. “I somehow wanted to make a political point,” said the designer, who also had the best soundtrack of the week, The Third World by Harlem rapper Immortal Technique.

Sarria has just been accepted by London’s Central Saint Martins school, where he will start next January. When he finishes, he plans to start a line with his sister Anna, herself a Saint Martins graduate.

Elsewhere on the runways, Winde Rienstra showed an interesting collection of spare dresses adorned with constricting architectural constructions involving buttery leathery and threads. The men’s designer Quoc Tang revealed a modern fashion sensibility, and his sturdy coats with fur-edged hoods, hefty boots and thick woolen pants were winning pieces. Hunkemoller is something of an institutional underwear brand in the Netherlands, and its packed show had all the ingredients of a Victoria’s Secret extravaganza: sun-kissed beauties in frilly underwear with glued-on smiles, greeted by catcalls and cheers from the audience. A fantastic interlude of Brazilian drummers stole the show.

The Spijkers en Spijkers collection, by the Spijkers sisters, zeroed in on healthy Nordic girls with big curly hair in summery striped dresses and tanks, micro shorts and thick-soled high heels. The show was straightforward and user-friendly, and it exuded a 1970’s summery feel that couldn’t have come at a better time. Outside, the streets were strewn with broken umbrellas that had lost their battle with buffeting winds and incessant rain in an otherwise agreeable week.

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