Catching up with award winner Elisa van Joolen

She recently took home the award at our Future Fashion Practices masterclass in Paris: Elisa van Joolen. Commenting on the system in her very own way, the Dutch designer’s lauded 11”x17” project challenges the written and unwritten rules of fashion. “I think the way forward is not against fashion, but working with people in the fashion industry.”


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you reflect on the Paris masterclass?

It was great. Very intense, long days of viewing and discussing each other’s work. I really enjoyed learning more about each participant’s approach towards fashion and their processes. What I found beautiful was the openness of everyone: talking also about the challenges and failures of projects. It was valuable to spend quite some time with people working in the French and Dutch fashion industry, as normally it is a rather quick encounter (and often remains superficial). We had time to really exchange ideas, and gained good contact for possible future presentations.


How do you plan to make use of the award you were granted in Paris? (Congrats!)
Thank you! I am going to use the award for production costs for a new iteration of my 11”x17” project.


The jury selected your work for “showing the machine behind the fashion system.” Can you explain why this is so important to you? We understand that your work is sometimes misunderstood or criticized for employing existing pieces and/or brands. How do you respond to this sort of criticism?

That is no misunderstanding! I deliberately use existing pieces from different brands and make new combinations. To tell you a bit about 11”x17”: it’s an ongoing project that examines and challenges the fashion industry’s prevailing value systems and proposes new radical methods of production. I initiated 11”x17” in 2013 with a series of conversations with representatives of various fashion brands including G-Star RAW, O’Neill, Gsus, Rockwell by Parra, Converse, moniquevanheist and Nike. These companies subsequently contributed to the project by donating clothing and footwear in the form of samples, archival pieces and stock. A selection of these, complemented with pieces of second-hand and no-brand clothing, underwent a process of cutting out and reconstructing. One of the products developed from the project is 11”x17” Sweaters. With 11”x17” Sweaters I investigate the diverse ways in which ‘basics’ have been produced – by placing them alongside each other, exchanging materials, and cutting and pasting features from one item into the next. The resulting 11”x17” Sweaters are interlinked; they are assemblages, composed through a cutout method from a variety of existing clothing items. All items are treated as equals, regardless of whether they are a G-Star RAW crewneck or a moniquevanheist sweater; in the process, the tabloid format (11” x 17”, or 27,9 x 43,2 cm) serves as the basis for the cutout. In this way, 11”x17” constitutes a recurring motif within the new collection.

In my work I want to combine different categories from the whole scope of fashion into one piece of clothing. My wardrobe looks like that: designer next to mass-produced items, new and old pieces. With this idea in mind, I wanted to create this kind of plural connection between brands. If you open a fashion magazine this is already advertised as ‘mix and match’. But actually this never happens within one piece of clothing. It is always the second-hand, less valuable, paired with a designer piece. Why is there not a mix within one item?
I am very inspired by the structure of the Internet. There is no hierarchical order; everything exists next to each other. I can have multiple tabs open (literally next to each other) with different content. When I Google a ‘black dress’, I get images of several different black dresses from Valentino to H&M. To wear outfits without hierarchical distinction fits into today’s zeitgeist. We will live in a time where we use a concept of productivity that entails: recycling, sampling and mixing of existing cultural expressions.


11” x 17” is currently on show in Shenzhen, but actually it’s an ongoing project. How do you envision the development of this concept in the (near) future?

At this moment I am talking to several brands to collaborate on a new iteration of 11”x17”. I will show part of it at the “Dream Out Loud” exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, opening end of August. I was also invited by IASPIS (the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s International Programme for Visual and Applied Artists) to spend three months in Stockholm to develop 11”x17”. I will be there this autumn and I’m very much looking forward to spend some time there and to work with brands, fashion designers based in Sweden.


You recently attended the opening of ‘The Future of Fashion is Now’ in Shenzhen. Do you have any idea how your work is being received in China?

Recently my work was on view in quite a few exhibitions in China (i.e. Art&Design Biennial in Shanghai, Domestic Affairs – UABB Architecture Biennale in Shenzhen)
I have the feeling Chinese curators, artists and designers are really open for new approaches towards design.


Is there anything in specific that excites or interests you about the Chinese fashion world?

The mindset: “We can make anything happen!”


If you could shape the future of fashion ­– even just a little bit – what would it look like?

I think the way forward is not against fashion, but working with people in the fashion industry. To develop new ideas about collaboration (not one brand with one designer, but multiple brands – a mix! Just like how we dress ourselves. As an outfit is always a mix of different labels, new and old items)