Design as Ideology: Six Questions With Maastricht FASHIONCLASH

With the escalating corporatization / consolidation of just about everything, the fact that FASHIONCLASH has carried on since its inauguration a dozen years ago and gotten more experimental and ideological is exceedingly encouraging. Launched in 2009 by Branko Popovic, Nawie Kuiper and Laurens Hamacher, it still calls the small, but exceedingly cool Netherlands university city Maastricht its home.

Starting out as an incubator for radical fashion concepts and executions, it has continually evolved to contextualize the business of designing and making clothes within the larger, overarching issues of the day. With innovation in its DNA, as last year’s event was being cancelled due to COVID, a virtual version was quickly planned and then staged in February (see video recap below). This November (25 – 27) FASHIONCLASH will return as a hybrid of the physical and digital.

It is also upping both its conceptual game (more film, performance, opera) and its ideological one, confronting issues such as inclusivity, sustainability, and contemporary ethics all through the lens of fashion.

Most of the physical productions this year will be taking place in Maastricht‘s burgeoning Sphinxkwartier district. But we cannot emphasize enough how much it’s worth spending a few days also just exploring one of our favorite European cities, for its beautiful historic architecture (it boasts 1677 national heritage buildings), its wealth of independent shops, its culinary offerings (it’s home to several Michelin starred restaurants), and its energetic nightlife. (Book a room at the Kruisherenhotel, fitted into a 15th Century cathedral.)

As The Netherlands was in the midst of easing visitor restrictions, we caught up with Artistic Co-Director Branko Popovic to talk about where FASHIONCLASH has been, and just where it is going in 2021.

What happened with the 2020 edition of FASHIONCLASH? 

The 12th edition that was planned for November 2020 took place in February of 2021 in an alternate and digital form. We physically recorded the entire program and broadcast everything during the digital edition, which was a very special experience. We have taken the challenge of COVID-19 to experiment with digitization and new forms of presentation. As always, we take challenges and obstacles as an opportunity to innovate.

What will be new at this year’s event? 

This year we will consciously experiment with hybrid, online and offline programs. People can follow everything online, but at the same time everything can also be seen physically. We have chosen to move away from fashion shows and to look much more at other forms of presentation – there will be more performances, films, opera. New is the Open Mic Night.

We will also pay extra attention to encouraging active public participation. For example, we made a fashion film with young people in a neighborhood with high youth crime numbers. We also work with social organizations that are committed to people with disabilities. And we are going to make a theater performance to draw attention to sustainable fashion.

How has FASHIONCLASH evolved since its launch in 2009? And how would you describe the current…manifesto? 

We passionately believe in the contribution that the art of fashion can make to people, society, culture and the economy. FASHIONCLASH initiates, produces and presents existing and new work by a new generation of fashion makers who explore, reflect, contextualize and celebrate contemporary fashion culture. With its activities FC functions on the one hand as a platform for avant-garde, investigative and sustainable fashion designers/artists, and on the other as a platform for ethical discourse and knowledge exchange in dialogue with the general public.

We approach fashion as a multidisciplinary art and as a cultural phenomenon that, with its own unique language, is able to create a dialogue between people and their relationship to the world.

So there is a genuine ideological/political bent? 

Yes, always. Only in recent years we have become much more aware of putting themes on the agenda and organizing dialogue. We want to organize projects that can have an impact on society.

We seek out collaborators within like-minded organizations with whom we can investigate the transformative role of fashion in relation to social issues. A project we are proud of is Taskforce Fashion, a collaboration with M-ODE and State of Fashion. And our Second Skin, a social design project in Tilburg Noord, is also an example of how we set up long-term projects to actually mean something.

What is your take on the continuing corporatization of fashion? And what would you say are some of the bright spots in the industry? 

We have a love/hate relationship with the complex fashion industry. We work much more on the culture side of fashion and actively seek interaction with the public – the professional public, but also the general public. There is a lot of false marketing and good intentions but a lot more hands-on needs to be done. Influencer culture only makes it more polluting. We are always much more inspired by young designers, the arts and culture and not so much by the fashion industry.

There are organizations that do very good things such as The OR Foundation, Fashion Revolution, Lagos Fashion Week, Research Collective Decolonial Fashion, and in The Netherlands we also have special initiatives such as the Outsiderwear project, State of Fashion, OSCAM and The Linen Project. Also a new value driven network called Culture Fashion.

Why is Maastricht still the right place to stage FASHIONCLASH? And how would you “sell” the city to a potential visitor who is interested in fashion? 

Maastricht is a small city, but a very beautiful city. There is a mix of old historic buildings, an industrial past and modernity. Most of the festival takes place in a cool new area in town called Sphinxkwartier, and the beautiful places such as Maison Blanche Dael and Lumière Cinema. It is in this area that the industrial revolution started in The Netherlands, and it is fitting that we can showcase the creatives of the future.

The small scale makes it possible to experience the festival intimately and there is a strong community feeling. And this year you can watch from home anywhere in the world.

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