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Schipper/Arques SS11 | image by Paul Reinquin Schipper/Arques SS11 | image by Paul Reinquin

News Design

Designer Focus: Schipper/Arques

Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010, 9:24 AM / Hasselt, Belgium

We tend to underestimate the kind of impact clothes can have on our surroundings, relationships or even lifestyles. In an image-driven society, what you wear is key and often defines who you are. Style is a major discourse in Western culture and one you can hardly escape from. Fashion has the ability to seduce, transport and convince us, making us want to possess what we aspire to. However, few designers manage to tap into the power of clothes as a body-altering tool, empowering the individual wearing them and giving them a chance to stand out.

Based in Hasselt in Belgium, Boris Schipper and Tomas Pedrosa Arques know exactly what it takes to make a woman look beautiful. They also have an acute awareness of the body, which undoubtedly comes from Schipper's background as a dancer: “I studied at the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, but found the teaching a bit too conceptual and abstract. I realised I wanted to learn how to make real clothes, not a dress out of concrete. I started performing in clubs and won a dancing competition, which led me to work for Roxy in Amsterdam, which was one of the hippest clubs at the time. I sometimes danced five nights a week and started making clothes for friends and other performers. I also did styling and make-up, which I really enjoyed.”

Schipper met Pedrosa Arques while performing in a Belgian club and the attraction was mutual. They decided to work together and set up a company called “Art of Vanity” which allowed them to design one-off pieces for demanding clients: “We were working on a pretty high level, making mostly evening wear and party dresses”, explains Schipper. “Everything was handmade and the prices were quite high, especially for the Belgian market. Still, we had faithful clients who kept coming back and the business was good.” Eventually, the guys got tired of tailor-made garments and felt that what they were doing was not really fashion, but private orders for a wealthy clientèle: “We had a nice store and liked our clients, but we were truly overworked and didn't want to do it any more.”

They wanted a much younger line and collections that would not limit themselves to special occasions. Last year, they launched Schipper/Arques, gaining instant interest from international press and buyers, who were intrigued by their cuts and unique sources of inspiration. Working with a specific woman in mind, they imagine what her history might be and the dilemmas she had to face: “We tend to work with ideas that deal with restriction and liberation. Our woman comes from an oppressive background and tries to liberate herself, abandoning her old clothes to embrace a new identity.” The designers love corseting, but done in a completely modern way, using digital prints, padlocks and embroidery to make it fresh. They are keen on dresses, too – the ultimate female symbol – which will be bright and fluid for next summer, using bold tones and subtle draping to keep them current.

Still, there's a darkness in their clothes that is part of their appeal, referring to Victorian elements, such as hook-and-eye closures, or hints of S&M, giving them a nice edge. An ongoing obsession with anatomical features pervades their work, too, granting some of their looks the feel of armour. In fact, there's nothing the pair enjoys more than paradox and contradiction. Their technical breadth is impressive, from constructed shirts and tailored jackets to floaty gowns and adorned headpieces: “We like the idea of ambiguity. Our woman has to rebel against social conventions to become herself, but, at the same time, she has an education and background that are part of her DNA.”

Needless to say, it's not all plain sailing for designers in Belgium: “You don't really get the kind of support or funds you have in other countries, like Holland or the UK. It can be pretty challenging for us, but this is what we really want to do and the direction we believe in. There is a client who will wear one of our printed jackets with a pair of jeans. Working only with performers or artists, you lose that sense of reality and we wanted to go back to that feeling.” A promising sign is how complementary the two men are, echoing each other in conversation and knowing what their respective roles should be: “Boris is the one with fantasy and imagination, working on the cuts and coming up with new stories”, notes Tomas. “I'm the more grounded one, thinking about the business aspects and how to make it work. Still, he listens to my opinion and cares about what I have to say. We respect each other and I know that such partnerships can be rare in fashion.”

Philippe Pourhashemi | TribaSpace

Product Groups: Couture, Creation, Ready-to-Wear, Contemporary
Markets: Women's

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