In conversation with Han Nefkens, founder of ‘The Future of Fashion is Now’
How do you look back on the selection process preceding the commissions in Shenzhen?
We were very impressed by the quality of the Chinese designers. In fact, we had no idea what to expect, that’s actually why we do what we do – it’s an exploration. When we found out that there would be more space in Shenzhen than in Shanghai, we figured this would be a perfect opportunity to discover new Chinese designers. We did things the way we always work, through a network of scouts: Chinese insiders who proposed a number of designers. Together with fellow jury member Mr. Feng Feng we made the final selection.
What was the common denominator in granting the commissions?
They are all distinctive. We saw work that we have never seen anywhere else, so those were the designers that we wanted to give the opportunity to create new work, to show in both Shenzhen and Rotterdam. What we did keep in mind throughout the selection process is that there will be a new exhibition on at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. So in a certain sense we were already designing this expo; the diversity of the work played a role. We weren’t just looking for something beautiful, but for designers who tell a story that goes beyond clothes.
Were you positively surprised?
Is there a specific work that you were touched by?
Yes, the work of ZAZ, who dyed his fabrics in the river, which is a very time-consuming ritual that can only take place at certain moments of the year. I found that very inspiring. He was so passionate and enthusiastic about restoring an ancient tradition, and to give it a form that suits our times. That was very interesting. It also emphasizes the title of the exhibition: Three Eyes. Two eyes looking forward, one looking back.
What happens when a commission is granted?
The designers are invited to create a work, that means they come with a proposal. We then take a look at all proposals and give our stamp of approval. Of course we also follow the process when the works are being made.
Do you also give feedback?
Yes, but there’s a very fine balance you have to find. Many designers and artists I work with appreciate getting feedback, as their work is often a solitary practice. I think designers don’t mind when we respond on a conceptual level.
From Shenzhen we travel to Paris, where the TFOFIN masterclass took place very recently. How was that for you?
It was an incredible experience! I didn’t have a preconceived image of what was going to happen. It’s very special to spend some days with young designers and find out from up close what they have to deal with on a daily basis. That often involves the question how to remain authentic, be true to yourself, and stay afloat in the harsh fashion industry. It was especially inspiring to see their sense of motivation. What struck me also is that they – contrary to how fashion used to function – share a lot with each other. That’s partly due to social media, but also think of experiences, contact details and suggestions. This is very different from the tough competition between big brands. So altogether it was an inspiring and warm experience, and I believe everyone experienced it as such.
What is your personal vision on the development of ‘The Future of Fashion is Now’?
My vision on this – and you’ll find this throughout the entire art sector – is that lines are being blurred. Everything is becoming more fluid; disciplines are mingling. Just one example: designers working with sustainability and social issues, asking themselves what clothing really stands for. Also, the Internet has enabled us with more access to current events, this wasn’t the case some 30 or 40 years ago. You can start out looking for fashion, but click your way to nuclear physics within a moment. I think this makes today’s world so very interesting, but also complicated. It means you need a less rigid outlook on work and life – you’ll find that with designers and artists.
Will this turn ‘The Future of Fashion is Now’ into a broader platform?
Yes, I think so. Just have a look at the participants of our masterclass. Maison the Faux, for example, don’t just produce clothes, but also host events and performances. At the same time a profusion of options poses the risk of things becoming too much, and fragmentation taking place. That’s why it’s very important to always focus and make very clear choices.