29 November 2021
10 minutes read
Veerle Baetens / Jill Antwerp
Antwerp is bursting with creative fashion talent, and the A/part initiative was delighted to focus some extra attention on that. Twenty designers and fashion labels were paired with other creative people and Antwerp retailers. The matchmaker and curator on duty was the multidisciplinary talent Baloji. A/part resulted in twenty unique creations that the twenty participating shops offered in Antwerp in November 2021. A kaleidoscope of collabs and an excellent example of 'all together'. We highlight two collaborations: UNRUN / KOMONO and HNST / Veerle Dejaeger / Monar.
With A/part, the City of Antwerp, the Fashion Museum and Flanders DC want to highlight the lush, local fashion ecosystem, promote cross-pollination and support local retail, especially in pandemic times. It does so by means of twenty surprising collabs between designers, fashion labels, artists and Antwerp shops, and just as many pioneering objects that resulted from those collaborations. As the curator of the project, Baloji took care of the matching. A Brussels native himself, the musician and visual artist with a passion for fashion has an exquisite and distinct view on the world of fashion and the creative playing field that surrounds it.
““For me, the important thing in this project was to be able to take each designer out of his or her comfort zone.”
He could count on the crème de la crème of the Belgian creative scene. The list of participants is impressive to say the least. From iconic designers who put Antwerp on the map even in farthest reaches of the world, such as Walter Van Beirendonck, Christian Wijnants, the duo An Vandevorst & Filip Arickx (formerly AF Vandevorst) and Wouters & Hendrix, to young fashion talents who are itching to do the same one day — names such as Tom Van Der Borght, Meryll Rogge and Stephanie D’heygere. Large retailers (JBC, Essentiel Antwerp, A.S.Adventure, etc.) are also behind the project, as are smaller-scale boutiques such as VIER, Monar and Ganterie Boon — known for their leather gloves. To say nothing of the big names from the music, art and design worlds. For example, singer-songwriter Tamino joins forces with designer Jan-Jan Van Essche to create an object that radiates pure poetry. Photographer Mous Lamrabat teamed up with Van Beirendonck, designer Pieter Stockmans with Raf Simons — Limburgers among themselves. And then there are also the actresses Veerle Baetens and Veerle Dejaeger, who each in their own unique way transform their love for sustainability into a collab that comes straight from their hearts.
Because of course, the collaborations also reflect the zeitgeist, or they provide solutions for the challenges of the future. Always with creativity and innovation in mind. How else but innovative could you call the signet ring with built-in USB port from the accessory label D’heygere sold worldwide in cooperation with DEEWEE? It even has an exclusive music track created by the Dewaele brothers, the founders of the music label. Or the hybrid aerodynamic ski goggle mask created by Komono and the sportswear brand UNRUN.
In a society where no one should feel excluded, fashion and design cannot be purely exclusive either, only reserved for the happy few or the insiders. The collab design means that there is something for everyone, for every style and every wallet. The offer ranges from jewellery and clothing to design objects. This is a huge showcase of what the Belgian creative world is capable of, and of the idea that the (fashion) world is always a better place when bridges are built and people join forces. A/part once again confirms Antwerp’s reputation as an international fashion city, and the large pool of talent that makes that success possible.
All collaborations could be discovered and were also for sale in the twenty participating shops in Antwerp between 4 and 20 November 2021.
That KOMONO and UNRUN (formerly 42|54) would ever join forces was written in the stars. They had made plans in this direction before, but those plans never materialised. Thanks to a prompt from A/part and curator Baloji, they had a second chance. For Anton Janssens, co-founder and CEO of KOMONO, the decision was soon made: “There is not only that past history, but there are certainly also overlaps between the two brands. In this way, we both play a pioneering role in making technology fashionable. We with our eyewear, UNRUN with their performance wear. Moreover, in a previous life I was a professional snowboarder, albeit on a completely different level from Elodie and Olivia. I don’t have an Olympic medal,” he says laughing.
For Elodie Ouédraogo and Olivia Borlée, founders of UNRUN, the collaboration also immediately made sense. “KOMONO is a well-known brand and many people wear their eyewear, but the question was how to match our two worlds.” The answer came in the form of a black balaclava with a reflective UV lens and a streamlined design. “We notice that many athletes wear glasses and accessories on the piste,” explains Ouédraogo, “but they are more for show rather than aerodynamic reasons. What if we were to create an object that is pure fashion but at the same time plays with aerodynamics? There are limits to what you can do to train your body, after that it boils down to seeing where you can still make marginal gains. Through a different posture or a streamlined design, for example. These are details, but they can make the difference between a medal or no medal, or a gold or a silver medal. That was the greatest challenge. We wanted to make more than just a cool object. A good fit was essential.”
“We both play a pioneering role in making technology fashionable.”
The two DNAs of the brands come together effortlessly in the object. Even complete fashion illiterates can clearly see what each of the parties have put on the table. KOMONO the lens and the know-how of the goggles, UNRUN the mask of hi-tech Lycra. Ouédraogo: “For our fabrics we worked with stock. Sustainability is important to us. The lycra comes from Liebaert Textiles in Deinze, Bioracer in Tessenderlo produces the masks.” A Chinese company with which KOMONO has been working for some time produced the lens, but the assembly is also done in Belgium. Janssens: "We only looked at how we could cut the lens for the perfect fit. We did not invent a new lens. For a project like this, you don’t invent technology, but you build on what you have. The innovation is therefore not so much in the use of new materials, but in the combination of a mask and ski goggles. We have created something that did not yet exist.” Laughingly, they say that they should patent it and coin a new word for their creation. Because, in the purest sense, it is not just a balaclava or ski goggles, but a sum of the parts. Elodie: “Suppose we could commercialise it and our UNRUN girls could wear glasses like this instead of traditional sunglasses, wouldn’t that be fabulous. We have already laid the foundation. Now we have to look further and see what else is possible, and how we can make it even more aerodynamic, because after all, that is the starting point in sport.”
“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that people have started to discover the luxury of being comfortable.”
So innovation remains the driving force behind both brands. Anton Janssens: “That keeps it fun, and it is also our role as entrepreneurs. When we started KOMONO, luxury was luxury and luxury was expensive. Our approach has made that luxury accessible and it continues to be an important part of our DNA. To be honest, I am not really interested in doing something that someone else has already done. You do indeed get better at your job as the years go by, but I like the disruption.” For Anton and KOMONO, the collab confirmed what they had already suspected. “There is a promising future in performance wear. For some time now, we have been practising the art of introducing that into our eyewear and watches as well. Our snowboard and ski collections were a first step, but maybe we will launch something like KOMONO Sports in the near future. That idea is alive and well, but for the time being, all our focus is on our main categories.” From a business and sales point of view, tapping into the global athleisure and activewear market is certainly not a bad thing. According to the American research company NPD, forty percent of all online purchases in 2020 were athleisure wear, and that will only increase. Elodie is also convinced of this. “If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that people have started to discover the luxury of being comfortable. The big brands are increasingly using technical fabrics to introduce that comfort into their high fashion ideas. It is still a wise decision to continue to focus on that.” Maybe they would never have come up with the idea of combining their mask and goggles without COVID. “Over the past eighteen months, we have all started to think about how to protect ourselves and we no longer question a mask. They are the fashion item of the day; you see them everywhere on the catwalks.” Janssens thinks that is only logical. “What is the function of a fashion brand? To capture the zeitgeist and translate it into a product. And our collab is a good example of that. I am very proud of it.”
Sustainability has become part and parcel of fashion. And a good thing too. As a society we face major ecological challenges, which is something more and more people are taking seriously. As does 21-year-old actress Veerle Dejaeger, known from the popular youth series wtFOCK and the series Mijn slechtste beste vriendin (My worst best friend, a Flemish fictional series about six girlfriends). When she was approached by Baloji — whose daughter Bebel is apparently a big fan of hers and also of wtFOCK — to participate in A/part, she indicated how important the sustainability aspect is to her. She did see something in HNST, the Antwerp label that you pronounce “honest” and that makes one of the “greenest” jeans in the world. “After just half an hour it was clear that we share the same norms and values,” says an equally enthusiastic Lander Desmedt, CEO of HNST.
In terms of creativity, the first meeting was also very fruitful right from the start. It was immediately clear to Veerle that she wanted to do something with a graphic print. “HNST jeans are not seasonal, so I wanted to add a little more edge to them. I saw it as a blank sheet on which I could scribble something,” she says laughing. “I contacted Eva Engelen (sustainability and product manager of HNST, ed.) to go through the creative process, and it was not long before we decided that we wanted to involve a third Belgian party with a strong graphic insight and knowledge of printing prints on fabrics. And so we turned to Liselotte Van Daele; as a graphic design teacher at the KASK in Ghent, she guided me through the entire design process. It all started with my sketches of concepts that reflect parts of myself, and we developed the print together based on those elements.” It seems at first sight to be abstract, but for Veerle it is full of personal meaning. For example, a sort of life line has been drawn on the right trouser leg, branches showing how my life has taken shape over the years. The left side represents an 18-pattern, because that age has a special meaning. Not only for me, but for many people that is a new chapter where many avenues open up and where you experience immense growth as an individual. On the back you will find a figure that is the translation of a dream I had repeatedly as a child, and when we also played with the words ‘lost’ and ‘found’, to which many young people and adults can relate. I am gradually finding my place in the world, but with all the stimuli from social media and the pressure to which I subject myself, the world is so big that it sometimes makes me feel lost and confused.”
“The biggest change is that for this product, we make everything to order.”
This quest for oneself also resonates strongly with Desmedt. Being true to yourself is one of the core values of HNST. Not only to people, but also to the planet. “You can indeed wear our trousers in any season, because that makes them more timeless and therefore more sustainable. With this collab, we turn that around completely. The challenge was to make these jeans match our DNA. So for the print, we worked with water-based ink, without microplastics and just as recyclable as the rest of our product, but the biggest change is that for this product, we make everything to order. This is a unique experience for us. This is how we are testing the completely new business model. Maybe in the long run we can extend the concept to our permanent collection, and even add more bits and bobs and also prints. For me, that is this project's greatest asset, but the collaboration with Veerle also went very smoothly. In addition to the print, we have collaborated on the development of a new jeans model that fits in perfectly with the young generation that it represents so well. We are so proud of it that we are going to include it in our permanent collection, albeit without the print, but maybe we can do something similar again with Veerle in the future.”
“I feel privileged in that I have a large social reach to communicate brands like HNST.”
The young actress is certainly open to a sequel, if only to put Belgian design in the spotlight. “Antwerp is bursting with talent, but there are still so many hidden gems like HNST to discover. I feel privileged in that I have the reach to communicate that to my followers. Because sustainability is extremely important to my generation. In fact, all their lives young people have been told that it is now their responsibility: “We fucked up the planet, now you fix it.”
Lander Desmedt: “Veerle’s generation is the last one that can actually do something about it, otherwise we really will reach the tipping point. I definitely notice that Gen Z is the most actively involved with our brand; they are the most critical. Although, for many young people, the price we ask is not always realistic. We are now developing products with a lower price point than our jeans. Today, young people are also occupied with thrift shopping and pre-loved items. We have not yet been around long enough to be able to offer pre-loved HNST today and thus include even more young people in our story, but that is our hope.”