Famous names like Viktor & Rolf, Iris van Herpen and Jan Taminiau have placed the Netherlands firmly on the map as a country of idiosyncratic fashion talent. These and other Dutch designers attract international praise. High time, therefore, for an Ode to Dutch Fashion at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, which has one of the most important fashion collections in the world. Never before has such a major exhibition showcasing the history of Dutch fashion been presented in the Netherlands.
Anyone who saw King Willem-Alexander’s coronation cannot fail to recall the dazzling blue creation – a Jan Taminiau design – worn by Queen Máxima. The Netherlands is home to a huge amount of creativity, and this has certainly not gone unnoticed abroad. Designers with their own strong signature have been particularly successful at rising above the crowd and gaining a strong reputation. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is proud to present a well-deserved Ode to these designers this autumn, and to show how fashion has developed in this country since 1900.
Following international trends
In the seventeenth century the Dutch elite liked to appear in portraits dressed in dignified black. However, a closer look reveals more than fifty shades of black: from ‘crow black’ to ‘coal black’ and ‘glossy black’. From that time until well into the twentieth century the Dutch followed international fashion, sometimes adapted to their own taste. In the eighteenth century, for example, a great deal of blue silk was worn in the Netherlands, while the French preferred brighter colours like emerald green or lemon yellow. Fashion consciousness grew in the nineteenth century. The Dutch closely followed the latest international trends and the arrival of the luxury department store Hirsch (from Brussels) helped prompt the emergence of a real luxury goods industry towards the end of the century.
The first fashion designers to work under their own name in the Netherlands, like Joan Praetorius in the 1920s, continued to follow the lead of Parisian couture for a long time. Praetorius’ designs were admired for their ‘clean lines’ and also their ‘Dutch simplicity and quality’. After the Second World War a whole generation of Dutch designers emerged, including Max Heymans, Dick Holthaus, Frans Molenaar, Fong Leng and Frank Govers. In the 1960s they turned their attention away from Paris, developing their own distinct style, featuring lots of black-and-white, a keen eye for line and shape, and also explosions of colour and idiosyncratic touches. From then on, fashion design courses in the Netherlands, particularly in Arnhem, focused on concept. This resulted in a host of creative designers, who put conceptual Dutch design firmly on the international map in the 1990s.
Major annual fashion exhibition
Almost ten years ago the Gemeentemuseum presented an exhibition entitled Fashion NL about the young designers of the time. Since then, fashion has been a recurring theme in the annual schedule of exhibitions. ‘Gemeentemuseum Den Haag has a long tradition of presenting fashion, with a clear emphasis on Dutch fashion’, director Benno Tempel explains. ‘Frans Molenaar had a solo exhibition here in the 1980s, for example. But we also frequently work with major foreign fashion houses. This took quite a lot of effort in the beginning, but now they know us and come to us themselves. We recognise the importance of fashion and that is reflected in our exhibitions policy.’
Photography and design of exhibition
Ode to Dutch Fashion will feature more than a hundred creations from the history of fashion in the Netherlands from 1900 to 2015. The exhibition has been designed by Maarten Spruyt and Tsur Reshef. The accompanying catalogue will be published by Waanders & de Kunst, and will include articles by Bianca du Mortier, Pascale Gorguet Ballesteros, Madelief Hohé and Georgette Koning. The photographs are by Sabrina Bongiovanni, who has photographed the historical collection and modern designs in typically Dutch settings: on a dike, in a tulip field, and amid the bustle of the city.