JAN JAN VAN ESSCHE
Dear Jan Jan,
I am starting my own website and wanted you to be the first designer for the section INTERVIEW.
Q: LL: Dear Jan Jan, a month ago I saw an article on you in www.tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com and I immediately started looking at the collection and at your website and discovered the Atelier Solar Shop concept store in Antwerp. I visited also your showroom during menswear in Paris and I was enchanted by the quality of your work, the strong concept and the authenticity of the design. I remember you saying that first you designed one collection a year and now already two; My first question: How do you cope with the today high rhythm of consumerism?
A: Jan Jan: First of all by being well surrounded by people with whom together I am building a world of our own. A small but super devoted team that believes in the brand and what it stands for; as well by creating a body of work that is more of a continuous story, rather than swiping the slate clean every 6 months.
We are always studying further on the same main ideas; deepening the research, by reintroducing garments and shapes continuously, fine-tuning techniques. We are telling the same story from different angles every time again, adding layers and aspects to it as we grow and learn. Time doesn’t stand still and we too do evolve but try to do so in an organic way. Building on what’s already there.
Q: LL: I received your invitation for the showroom in Paris and was captured by the beautiful imagery and photograph of your invitation! How do you promote your concept and how and were do you find your customer? Explain the slogans below.
To reconstruct – to renew – to renovate – to revive – to repair – to redefine – to revalue – to mend – to heal.
An unselfconscious creative process has yielded a series of patched garments, a collection of boro pieces texturized by time and by hands. By Life
A: Jan Jan: To capture the spirit of the collection in order to promote it, we put a lot of attention in the images we produce for the invitation as well as the look book. Because we don’t do shows or presentations, we think it’s important to have these images ready before the showroom to give a good idea of how we see and present the new work; all the images are made in house by our selves.
Reaching the right people has been a work of years, gathering the right contacts trough intensive research. All press and sales communication is something we’ve been managing within the house. The work is has its own voice and speaks for itself. The story appears to be resonating with many different costumers.
The slogans you’ve asked me to explain are key elements to the PROJECT#4 – EACH ONE TEACH ONE.
They put in context the reason why I’ve used this boro-inspired patchwork technique in this collection. And also illustrates it’s relevance now a days.
I think the beauty of Boro lays in the fact that, by adding repair patches of fabric by hand, one takes the time to meditate on something and personalizes it in a profound way. Really making it ones own in a way it can withstand the time again, start a second life. I believe people should treat life itself more in this way. Thinking carefully about what works for them, and taking the time to make it work. So many things have been broken, so much knowledge is getting lost. This is not a nostalgic thing, it’s more about –and I repeat myself- work with what’s already there, using what’s good and improving what doesn’t work anymore. Respect for the past with your eyes on the future.
The unselfconscious way I’ve added Boro to the garments is illustrative/characteristic for my way of designing in general: in the process I give a lot of space for intuitive, non predetermined ways of letting things come to live. I try to draw without thinking too much at first, the analytic phase comes later trough the pattern making and while developing the garment.
LL: I am also intrigued by the idea of the ‘Atelier solarshop’. How did it started and how did you found each other in this project?
A: Jan Jan: Atelier Solarshop came to us in a way…
After my studies I had written a text about how I would like to work in the future and how a workplace could be like; kind of a manifesto. It was mainly about taking the time to investigate things and working on my own merits. More like an artist or a musician, working autonomously, rather then following an industry and its agenda. Also I thought it would be nice to work under one roof with different ‘creatives’ from different fields.
One day in 2008 a friend came to us, mentioning a shop space he had for rent, asking if we didn’t know any creative people who would like to rent it as offices or ateliers. When we went there to have a closer look, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place so to say. We decided to take it ourselves and share it with others. There were atelier rooms and a common space for events and presentations.
Over the following years we did many different temporary projects. Sometimes Atelier Solarshop was a gallery, a restaurant, a temporary shop, amongst other experiments. After some time, with the collection growing next to Atelier Solarshop, we decided to give this project a more steady form. Kind of a best off of what we did until that moment. The shop as it’s been known since then is –under creative direction of Pietro- always evolving. It tells the story of our lives, displaying what triggers, inspires and occupies us. It’s the perfect frame around the JJVE collection and this frame enables us to involve work of other designers and artists sharing similar values.
LL: You have a great distribution and I feel you have the right shops; shops buying your collection have to believe in your philosophy, is it? Can you explain what makes you different from other menswear designers?
A: Jan Jan: I think we are very lucky with the partners we’ve found to support the collection. And I believe they all stand behind the work and its philosophy. I feel like it’s about likeminded people finding one another.
What makes us different from other brands is hard for me to say, I don’t really know much about how others work and their experiences. We just try to stay true to ourselves all along the way in all the aspects of the work.
LL: Dover Street Market, and Opening Ceremony in New York are extremely important buyers I guess because of the prestige and right balance in their choices. Are those names stimulating others to buy your line?
A: Jan Jan: We are so thankful being picked up by stores as these. It’s an incredible motivation. I guess it must have been of some influence on others. But I believe that the JJVE collection is not a line one buys because of something like a hype. I think the clothes are too understated, and the experience of wearing them is too personal.
Being represented by these stores has for sure made the brand much more widespread, which we are super happy about, but we haven’t experienced someone buying into it if they don’t understand the philosophy or connect to the story.
A: LL: When we met in your Paris showroom you said that the season announced very well and that now you might have a cash flow problem for producing all the orders. Fashion is always linked to the good news and the based news, is it? How do you feel about starting a small company; do you feel you need more commercial back –up?
Jan Jan: We have had a very good season indeed, with a nice growth in perspective. But for any producing company this also means that you have to be very aware of what’s happening and be very careful in your next steps. One has to pre-finance fabrics and productions, as well as the development of next season’s collection. So that means keeping a close eye on your cash flow and anticipating all aspects of the process. And this will always be the case, weather you’re a big or a small company, these are things we’ll always need to handle with care. Starting a small business can be quite stressful at times, and extra support is always welcome. Again, I am very lucky to be surrounded by motivated people who know how to do this, because this is not my strength as a designer.
Q: LL: Internet became another important player in the field for Designer’s turnover. Your website and the on-line shopping are well done and have a strong identity. Did e-commerce became and important part in your business?
A: Jan Jan: the internet became a very important aspect in the world of fashion retail, and I have the feeling its all still settling and finding its best form, things are moving still.
For our shop it’s an important aspect, which we try to handle with as much tactility as the physical shop itself. We are able to reach the whole world like this, as the brand is not available everywhere. Through the brand’s website we chose not to offer online sales to end clients directly.
Q: LL: Fabrics are the very important for defining your garment. How and were do you find your natural coloured fabrics?
A: Jan Jan: We find most of the fabrics trough the regular channels, such as Premiere Vision and fabric agents. From there we put together a palette of fabrics to use for the coming collection, resonating the feeling we want to translate, the story we want to tell.
At the moment I am looking into the possibilities of having naturally dyed, environment friendly fabrics. This will be a slow process. But I think it’s important and challenging research. I recently visited a friend textile designer in Mali who only works with natural materials, which he all hand dyed with natural dyes such as indigo, mud, madder and others. But still producing high quality fine products: A very inspiring trip, which hopefully set me on the right track for the future.
Q: LL: you dedicate a lot of time studying your patterns. I like a designer who feels the importance of this element in his work. Tell us about that passion of yours.
A: Jan Jan: Patternmaking is maybe the most important aspect to my designs. All patterns are done in house and a huge amount of time is invested in this process. Developing new shapes and new ways of finishing them. The way a garment is constructed and finished can really move me. Finding new ways of dealing with this is the game I like to play the most.
I try to make shapes that are as open as possible, with no unneeded details. I put as less seams as possible, often ending up with one-piece patterns. The less seams the less attention a garment asks, the more a wearer can just be. I love garments that get shaped by the wearer’s body more then the other way around. Another love of mine are traditional Japanese garments. They are built out of rectangular pieces, usually using all of the hand woven fabrics. The result is a very minimal shape, where no fabric gets lost in the process of making the garment; an example of maximum respect.
Q: LL: Last question…what would you like to refine in your strategy for becoming a more global brand?
A: Jan Jan: I have dreams of how I would love to see the brand grow but there is no specific strategy in that direction. Staying true to our philosophy and ourselves is the key I believe. Honesty and respect for all and everyone involved are truly important.
But other than that we take things as they come.
Thanks Jan Jan,
Good luck with your work and bravo to all your team, especially to Pietro!