Folkert de Jong

Marta Gnyp for ZOO #36, August 2012

For his last Parisian show for Spring/Summer 2013, Belgian designer Wouter Van Beirendonck collaborated with Dutch artist Folkert de Jong. De Jong’s colorful, elongated hats, which have featured in several of van Beirendonck’s series, have fascinated the designer from the first moment he saw them. Here, we speak to De Jong about the partnership.

MG: How did Van Beirendonck find you?

FDJ: He saw my artworks several times beforeat art fairs and museum exhibitions. He said that he became a fan of my works because of their formal qualities but also because of the way I deal with my subjects by creating tension. For his new show, he wanted to do something with the top hats and he couldn’t get my works out of his mind. He was making sketches for show designs but he was constantly drawing my hats.

MG: So he approached you specifically for the hats. Did you talk together about the total concept of the show? I understood that the show, Silent Secrets, aimed to convey the idea that nowadays thanks to social media everything has become public.

FDJ: We agreed that it would be a collaboration between us, so we started an open conversation about this subject – the idea that there is nothing secret, personal or private any longer. I liked very much the drawings he showed me: the conformist gentlemen suits or business suits – on the one side very formal, on the other side being almost like an outer shell to protect yourself. I like the idea of using these characters as examples of species. Interestingly enough, also the colors he used in his design are related to the colors I use in my works, like pink and blue. The moment we met, we had already a lot in common so we didn’t start from zero.

MG: Did you attend the show?

FDJ: Unfortunately not. I had to be in London for my project with the Wooster group.

MG: For the Wooster Group (theater and dance company) you designed the costumes for Troilus and Cressida. Your collaboration with van Beirendonck is therefore not the first attempt to cooperate with fields outside the classical art territory. Why do you seek to experiment with theater or fashion?

FDJ: At the beginning of my career, when I was studying in the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, I was making performances for which I designed stage sets and costumes. I dropped that way of working when I decided to develop more sculptural work and create installations in which I could also use various characters and develop a stage, but which I could fully control rather than organizing the theatrical interaction between people. I wanted to do everything myself in order to make it more efficient. So collaborating with the theater or a fashion designer reminded me a lot of the time when I started; there were some interesting elements from the past that I could pick up again. It meant liberty, a different artistic approach through another medium. It was an opportunity to reconsider and perhaps to reset what I’m doing. To break some values open.

MG: You used a lot of different symbols for the show. Did you develop them together?

FDJ: Walter was talking about secret societies and so I did research on this subject. I like those obscure magic symbols. It was interesting to have a dialogue about this subject.

MG: Did you notice that you as an artist think differently than he as a fashion designer?

FDJ: Not that much. The way he was explaining his project reminds me very much of how I think. What I realized working with him though is that fashion designers have very strict rules of the profession and that they have to conform themselves to those rules if they want to be successful.

MG: Can you imagine art and fashion, which are both somehow related to the notion of identity, will merge in the future more than they do it now?

FDJ: I don’t think so. It is true that clothing is about identity but there are also limitations. Fashion stops at a certain level. With art, you can transport
your ideas further, beyond the material, beyond the human body. Fashion has always been related to the human body and will always stay at that level; art is more artificial and intellectual.

MG: Your hats have a completely different materiality than the materials used by van Beirenrdonck. Do you think that the public experienced the show differently because of the tension between the two materials?

FDJ: Totally. This clash of materials boosted the whole show.

MG: Do you think that a fashion show can convey the ideas behind the show? Do you think this show, your joint project, managed to engage the public with ideas of social nakedness and lack of public secrecy?

FDJ: Because the design of Wouter is so specific and non-conformist, he managed to question the functioning of clothes in society in general.

MG: In this regard, he is very artistic – going into the direction of the non-functional and almost useless. Would you wear anything from his collection yourself?

FDJ: I’m going to visit Wouter shortly and then I will choose something for myself. I admire his will to push the limits of clothes as far as he can. In my view, he redefines clothing through new ways of expressions, bondage, breaking the codes of society. By going so far, maybe the public finds it extreme or provocative but at the same time, you could ask yourself how much we – as individuals and as a collective – conform ourselves to the codes of society.

MG: You were obviously aware that by participating in the show of van Beirendonck, you contributed to the media visibility of the brand. Next to the intellectual and artistic collaboration between the two of you, there is also an advertisement value for him and the danger that your work would be associated with him. Was this not a problem for you?

FDJ: I got an email from someone who wrote: “Hi Folkert, Van Beirendonck plagiarized your hats.” There are plenty of examples of the fashion industry
copying everything. Like H&M, they incorporate whatever they like. Yet I knew that if I put myself in this situation, I have to accept the rules of the game. The only way to collaborate is to submit yourself to the rules. Because my work has a strong authenticity I’m not afraid that it could be copied.

MG: What aspect of fashion design strikes you most?

FDJ: I find it very interesting that in the case of fashion designers, their name is part of the work; the person Wouter Van Beirendonck is the part of his company. I wonder what it does with your ego – to look at yourself as a part of a strategy and a concept. I admire him for looking for extremes because you make yourself very vulnerable. I don’t envy him since it must be hard to offer partially
your private life and become public property.

MG: Will we see more of your works on the catwalk?

FDJ: I don’t have the ambition to go into fashion but as part of a collaboration, it was a great project. So who knows?