Saturday, 19 November 2011


Everyone who is following my blog knows that one of my most highly admired designers is Jan- Jan Van Essche. His approach to men's fashion is so unique and wearable that I really think he belongs into fashion's pantheon next to Raf Simons, Damir Doma, Kris Van Assche, Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester
He is an innovator and revolutionary. Jan- Jan Van Essche's approach is taking it deliberately slow, when the fashion world is preparing to speed up even more. He is aware of  time  becoming one of  the most luxurious items of them all. His design philosophy is that there are no seasons. He releases one collection a year and his items are meant to be worn layered depending on the time of the year and mixed with with other brands and items you already have in your wardrobe. 
His clothes are produced locally which means they bring support to companies within Belgium and help to keep up the long and successful history of Belgium's fabric manufacturing past. But in the end it is his pure and urbane designs which won me over completely. 
I have not seen such strong minimalist designs which despite their simple aesthetic, create such strong feelings of beauty and transcendence since Helmut Lang 1990's heydays. 
Owing a piece of Jan-Jan Van Essche's collection is like owing a wonderful crafted piece of native art- simple yet impressive! 

I had the chance to talk to Jan- Jan about him and his brand. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did since his talk is as insightful and interesting as his designs. 

Jan- Jan Van Essche in his Antwerp design studio 

The Fashion Philosopher (FP): Hi Jan-Jan. Firstly, I have been very exited about your collaboration with the Atelier Solarshop project which I already talked about in a post in September. And I am even more excited about the news that us Londoners will finally get our hands on your brand in Hostem beginning of next year (February 2012)  which for me is just so brilliant, eventually I can touch and see your clothes in real.

Jan-Jan Van Essche (JJVE): I'm very excited about the Hostem store too, I am really happy about the fact my collection will be available there. Wonder how you will like it when you really see it...

FP: I' m sure I will love it even more! So let’s start with our little chat. What was the reason for you to go into fashion and start your own label?

JJVE: I don't really know why I wanted to go into fashion but ever since I can remember designing clothes was what I wanted to do. Having my own collection, to build a world and a message of my own.

FP: Have you ever thought first to work for one of the big fashion company?

JJVE: I did think about it during my studies at the academy. It seemed like the best way to learn more about the profession and what it really involves having your own collection. And I still believe such experiences can be a great learning opportunity.
It just didn't work out for me like that. Maybe for the better, maybe I wouldn't have started my own collection... Or later, or in a different form... who knows?

FP: I know you have been travelling a lot. Why do you choose these really unusual names for your collections (Jan-Jan’s first collection was called YUKKURI which means ‘ taking it easy’ in Japanese and your 2011 collection ist called SATTA AMASSAGANA which translates into ‘give tanks’ in Amheric)?


JJVE: Choosing those names happens very intuitively. Actually they aren't such unusual words to me. They are words I am familiar with and that presented themselves as titles for my collections.
Yukkuri was a word that lingered in my head for a really long time, like a mantra. I picked it up from a Tricky song, and it got stuck... When later I learned what it meant (slowly, taking it easy,...) I kind of knew why it stuck to my mind... It translated the feeling I wanted to express with my collection, and the message that I wanted to get across: That even fashion and clothes can express the feeling of taking the time to do what you love to do. And to do so in a more profound way then we are mostly aloud to these days. Letting ideas ripe, enjoying the moment, being aware of what is happening now.
Satta Amassagana is a roots reggae anthem (1976) by the legendary vocal trio “The Abysinians”. Roots reggae music has always been a great inspiration to me and I wanted to honour this by naming my second collection after one of its cornerstone songs. Also I wanted to express the fact that I am very grateful that I can do what I love to do most, and give thanks to those who are making it possible for me. The people guiding me, helping me or inspiring me.

FP:Where do you usually take your inspiration from for the collections? Is there a common thread going through the collections since the pieces are designed to compliment each other and add to already bough items?

JJVE: Life itself is an inspiration. Music, people I meet, things I read, all of this can trigger new ideas. I get a lot of my inspiration from images I collect from all kind of places, books, internet, news papers,... And I tend to keep these images close to me for a long time. They can be an inspiration for several years. I don't look for new inspiration for every collection, it's more of a constant evolution. And also my basic approach to designing doesn't change from collection to collection. That's also why I think all my work is complimentary.

FP: Not only is the way you call your collections unusual, the way you approach production and sales works very differently from a normal fashion label. Please can you explain what makes your approach so special? This definitely makes it not very easy for a new and up-and-coming label?

JJVE: I do one collection a year that contains both winter and summer items. So you can wear the same clothes trough out the year, layering your silhouette up and down, according to the weather or the occasion. Most of my designs also only exist in one size that should fit lots of different people, big or small, male or female...
I also pre-produce the collection before the moment it is presented, that means the stock is predetermined and limited, with all items individually numbered and retailers have to order 'off the shelf'.
This system has its difficulties, especially because people, me included, have to get used to it. But it also has big advantages. I can concentrate on one collection at a time, I can manage my investment better, there is more control on the growth of the company, ... It has allowed me to build up the collection in a quite steady way, learning as it grows.

FP: How are buyers and costumers reacting to your approach of selling you collections this way?

JJVE: The reactions so far have been quite positive, as well from the buyers as from private costumers. But I guess you better ask them.

FP: Can you tell us a bit about the production process behind your label? Are you also trying to stick to a more environmentally friendly and humane approach in producing your collections?

JJVE: Until now all of my production is done in Belgium and I would love to keep it that way. Or at least keep it as local as possible. For environmental, ethical and humane reasons, but also for practical reasons: it's easier to check in on the production when it is done locally.
Also because it would be such a shame if all of our Belgian industrial textile heritage and knowledge would totally disappear, as is the case at the moment.

FP: I think I called your approach to designing and selling your collection as ‘ the new simplicity’. This is the way I conceive your brand - as ‘simple’,‘quiet’ and ‘new urbane’.  There is an almost political awareness going into your work which opposes our mass production and shockingly quick turnover times in fashion. But the way you limit your pieces in a collection and through just doing one collection a year, makes your clothes very luxurious and expensive. They are actually just for a very small number of people. What do you think about this and would you like to change this ‘luxurious exclusivity’?

JJVE: It's true that my clothes are produced in very small quantities and not widely available, but that is more of a consequence of how I work, not my aim. I would like it to be more available but not against all cost. I don't think the world needs another mass brand.
And the fact that even in this very small group of people that are my clients, there is a great variety of people, which is a good sign to me.


FP: I can imagine it is difficult to find the middle?

JJVE: Finding balance is always hard, especially when there are so many external factors involved. The way my collection is perceived is out of my control.

FP: So how would you describe the ‘ JAN-JAN VAN ESSCHE’- man?

JJVE: I guess there is more then just one Jan-Jan Van Essche-man. In fact there are also quite some women out there wearing the collection.
So far most fans of my work, men and women, are in the creative world, incorporating my pieces into their own personal wardrobes and creating their own personal style which is very inspiring.
As comfort is very important to me, I guess this is also a reason why they are buying my pieces. I also don’t think my clients are necessarily trend followers but more interested in simple forms with a timeless character.

FP: What is up next for your brand?

JJVE: Next up is COLLECTION#3… I'm right in the middle of the designing process. So stay tuned!

FP: I would love your brand to collaborate with other artists or designers. Who would you love to work with and why?

JJVE: By working with Atelier Solarshop I’ve seen how inspiring and energising collaborations with other creative minds can be. But for the collection I haven’t done this yet. Everything at its time I guess. I would love to involve other people but the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself so far.

FP: Thanks a lot Jan- Jan for taking the time to answer these questions. As you know I really love your work and I wish you all the best for you and your brand. I will keep in touch and inform my readers about how you are progressing.

JJVE: Thank you, the support and understanding really means a lot.

1 comment:

  1. Some bad clobber there. Stick to Armani Jeans myself.