239 Things

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239 Things

‘The Way We Wore’ is one of my favourite fashion books. It’s about ‘black style then’, about the clothing of black people in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and it’s groovy. All these photos show radiant, self-conscious people in a certain look. Subjects range from a coloured head cloth to a series of passport photos of a boy as he grows up, in which a little collar, a golden chain, a turtle neck or a radical change of hairdo betray a careful choice of fashion. A designer piece turns up now and then. Compiler Michael McCollom asked a hundred friends and acquaintances to send their personal photos. The pictures are from family albums or fashion magazines, everything is mixed together as they are at pains to show that fashion is not about clothes but about style and attitude. Style is much more democratic than fashion, because you make it yourself and, if necessary, with a minimum of means. These people eagerly go through their wardrobes every morning: what to wear? The joy emanates strongly from these pages. In the preface, the compiler writes about the love of clothes within the black middle class he grew up in: We had outfits for school, we had outfits for picnics, we had outfits for church, we had outfits for holidays. Both his mother and his grandmother were an inspiring example. Generally, everyone was very concerned with their image, and knowing what to wear when was the key to success.

What catches the eye is that both the cliché and the experiment are celebrated. Pink is clearly a privileged colour and fur and gold are not shied away from either. A woman poses with a leopard tied to a bracelet. A black woman with her brown legs in nylons, that seems a little redundant, for weren’t nylons once invented to lend some tan to pale legs? But that is not the issue here. It is mainly the attention to detail and the overall meticulousness that stand out. A orange suit is matched with ditto shoes and to top it off, a shawl around the neck makes a bowtie. No black shoes are seen here because they would fit anything, no, every part complements the rest to arrive at that unique, own style. With an enormous turban around the head, sixteen year-old Karonda looks you in the eyes. The courage to be noticed, to live colourfully, that is what this book is about.

One should not enter a room and expect ambiance; one should enter and become it.

On the 25th of September 2010, artist Jeroen Werner turned fifty. Hester Alberdingk Thijm came up with a mirror dinner party; his work as an artist is often about reflection and mirroring. The table was covered with reflecting foil with a hologram effect, and on it stood many old glass items from AkzoNobel’s laboratories. Some of these lab bottles were filled with water coloured with ecoline ink. There were hundreds of silver-coloured tea lights, silver-coloured balloons, and a chandelier that all children had helped to build.

The favourite items from the birthday boy, ranging from wooden spoons to brushes, were given a silver-colour spray coating. The names of the guests were written on concave mirrors. The guests, too, were dressed in reflectors, so that everyone mirrored one another.
There was dancing and singing and everybody stayed over for the night.

a man made of cheese and ashes
Little 'Assmann' burning
Clifton 6
Clifton 8

During the sixties and seventies, many Surinamese people made their way to The Netherlands. One of these was Clifton.

In Holland, the Surinamese introduced us to a whole range of novelties: besides peanut soup, an exotic new vocabulary, different perspectives on life, swinging rhythms; moreover, they presented us with a remarkable fashion sense. I became acquainted with Clifton the through the visual artist Saskia Jansen. At the time, he was living on the streets and always carried a bag under his arm in which he kept his photo albums. He entered the room carrying his brown briefcase, unzipped it and placed five photo albums on my desk.

In every photo, Clifton was to be seen striking a pose with great care, in various settings from his first communion to a party in the homeless shelter a few months earlier.

The photos document his life like a sample card of the fashions and music genres of the last decades.

Clifton as Ray Charles, Boney-M’s Bobby Farell, as Lenny Kravitz, Michael Jackson, Milli Vanilli. Wearing a high-tech sliver body warmer with built-in speakers, or a bright yellow shirt standing next to a bright yellow mailbox.
Clifton wears a different outfit every day, and he’s been doing so for his whole life; as a child, as a visitor to Paradiso, regardless of whether he had a roof over his head. Always a different outfit, without fail.
Clifton 6
Clifton 8
​Broken idealism in S/S 13 ISLAND 1
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​Broken idealism in S/S 13 ISLAND 1

Fashion changes it's colour, theme and look every season often at the speed of a falling star. Within this frantic hurry, some things tend to go unnoticed.

Fashion designer Rick Owens asked artist Paul Kooiker to make a look book and even before someone looked over it, it was already out of fashion. Owens is considered a strange gothic bird within the fashion world. His clothes are tough, wearable, put up with big areas and most of the time black. The shoes often look like army boots and the jackets are styled like motor jackets. Owens clothes breathe a tough, androgynous erotic look yet his main customers are women either from Paris or Tokyo often a slim size 36.
​Broken idealism in S/S 13 ISLAND 1

He does things his own way. You will never see his clothes advertised in the pages of Vogue or Elle, why? Because he doesn't advertise. He describes his style: ‘I try to find very classical and graceful lines but in a primitive way.’ He doesn't hold a degree in fashion and after two years of art school he immersed himself into the nightlife of Los Angeles. ‘I was a part of this wicked Hollywood Boulevard hustler bar world. I hung around people like Goddess Bunny, a dwarf friend of mine, and Mr. Beanbag in super sleazy, crystal, tranny hustler bars just off Hollywood Boulevard, a couple of blocks from my studio. It fitted in with my aesthetic of broken idealism.’1

Owen’s clothes with its raw edges seem to be attractive for fashion people in a cool, fancy centre. In an interview with the German magazine Plastik he mentions Kooiker and Brancusi as two sources of inspiration. A strange couple: the classic, pure eternal values seen in the sculptures of Brancusi contrasting against the photo's from Paul Kooiker, where women pose in messy, raw and unattractive scenes. His floor is still covered with boxes of Polaroid's he used to make the test photographs. Owens then invited Paul Kooiker to make a look book from his accessories. Eventuality Kooiker realised he was allowed to do what he wanted,'I had more freedom then I get from a gallery owner', chuckled Kooiker.

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Even though the boundaries between art and fashion seemed to have disappeared, there are still other principles in fashion. Where artists seek for the boundaries of shame, beauty or social moral. Fashion always stays within the areas of seduction, the look of getting a positive response.

If Viktor and Rolf change the body structure by letting the body spill out in unwanted places, the models will walk on the catwalk like the hunchback of the Notre Dame. But that won't be a reason to turn away. The models are beautiful and you know that they have perfect, slim bodies underneath their clothes. It is a game when the eye generously rewards, instead of blocks. In the March edition of Vogue, a pregnant model poses in the report Centre of Attention that focuses on the naked waist. The pregnant abdomen looks beautiful and you know it will never become stretched or start to sag. To be more exact, the reader of Vogue has no reason to be afraid of these 'un-existing' imperfections. Guts in fashion is always appetizing. Behind every photo shot you find a team producing the concept to perfection. Even the sabotaging of this perfection is considered and that is what makes it boring and lifeless.

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A fashion report I will never forget was with men working on an oil platform, all wearing beautiful dresses. So far from normality yet so close to it, the only difference being the men where wearing expensive haute couture dresses, there was no made up scenery. This rare moment where fashion walks into the unpolished reality, most of the time you see tropical islands lined only palm trees. Owen’s describes how he ‘wanted to make something beautiful and I find that most profound beauty is grounded within something real.’

Alec Soth, Minnesota
In the time of the cross-over, time boundaries are softened and the mutual areas of disciplines get all the attention. The photographer Alec Soth produces the fashion magazine Paris-Minnesota and saw the invitation he received from Magnum as an opportunity to play with fashion. Still the concept remained week in his eyes: ‘the truth is that we did not have time for new ideas’. Working within a team also is hard for him. However the space between him and others is what fascinates him and that the tension seems to go away when you work in a team. Eventually Soth chooses to reveal the grey area between his own world and the world of fashion, Minnesota versus Paris. The photo shoots were held in his native area of south America, varying them between landscapes and portraits of locals.

Helmut Newton

Photographer Helmut Newton loved to work with models and fashion shoots. He worked with the very best teams, the best mannequins and the most expensive equipment. Why? Wouldn’t you if you had the chance?

Why you would not is shown in S/S 13 ISLAND from Paul Kooiker, the accessories look book from Rick Owens hardly shows a bag or shoe in it. The look book cover is of a woman leaning uncomfortably over an old leather seat on a twist leg? Her black hair hides her face and her belly is shown bulging and marked. She wears heavy black boots, forming a silhouette against the sky. On the ground lies a forgotten pile of photographs and in the background lurks an old filing cabinet. The second photo seems to be like the first but is not in focus, like a nervous assistant shaking on ladder had made it. The white areas of the blurry body and the white background dominate. The shoes are vague, black spots and then looking at the mess on the floor in the studio, you discover bags and wallets and then in the background the bulgy bag with thebookkeeping of the photographer. Women are laying on their fronts whilst putting their booted feet up in the air. The central part of the photograph reveals the soles of the boots, behind this you see a pile of soft, moist flesh. A number of thighs squished together to form a smiling line in the image. The cardboard box wrapped in ostentatious tape in which the expensive accessories were packaged remains. Pieces of paper are strewn everywhere. Each and every picture looks like a crime scene, an uncomfortable place, somewhere to avoid. It's a picture book that will scare away the viewer, rather than engage them. In this raw reality of the studio with the not so fashionable models the rationalisation of bags and shoes starts to unfold.

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These are insane pictures, gritty, obscured, black and white images. Desperate and utterly human. Kooiker seeks the uncomfortable and his lookbook achieves this whilst turning away from the usual fashion vernacular. If you are already familiar with Kooiker’s work, you see how he falls back to his own style with this project. The studio with chunky models and the shoes that come with it. He has taken the shoes and bags and placed them within the context of art and then taken the imagery hostage. Kooiker first tested this with his phone, just to gain an idea and immediately saw the magic of the imperfect composition. He also shot the rest with his phone and then put the shoes and bags back in the boxes and then returned them. It was as simple as that.

I asked Kooiker how he dared to do that; "You don't always have to watch when you take a picture because that control is very annoying. You have to shoot straight from the feeling for that moment. It is intuitive and from that trust it then gives you something. Fashion needs loss of control.”

In Paris Minnesota you see a beautiful landscape. In the distance you will find a red bag resting in a on a pile of rocks . The bag is almost invisible but the landscape is magical and that atmosphere of beauty surrounds the bag. You want it, empowered by the landscape. Fashion is a fairytale where you can see yourself in a fantasy, as almost hiding out in a dream.

Kooiker puts his mark in the sand, and turn the whole image around. The viewer is now placed in a nasty, strange place. The weird anonymous scenes make you soon forget the shoes and make you want to look away, but still you are still gazing over the image, just like a voyeur.

Kooiker then took the photographs to his usual designer, Willem van Zoetendaal who then selected 16 images of the 20 images, positioned them and simply yet boldly bind the book with a red thread.

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A pile of a 100 look books where left in every shop selling Owen’s items, as an extra gesture to the customer. Owen’s has made a personal statement about fashion, within a book given out to customers. All of which have disappeared from sight very quickly.

‘I try to make clothes the way Lou Reed does music, with the direct use of minimal chord changes." Words that are relevant to S/S 13 ISLAND of Kooiker, which is more a 'zine' than a look book.

And this is how Rick Owens reacted:

the images

Thanks Rick

1Quote by Rick Owens