“I had no idea what to wear this morning,” I shyly whisper in the ear of Sheila de Vries as we pose for a picture together. “Oh that quilted jacket looks perfectly fine,” she answers. My interview with the grande dame of Dutch fashion is done and she has approved of my outfit. What a relief! As I drive back home to Rotterdam, I think of everything Sheila and I have talked about: her unique career, her vision on today’s fashion and of course the collection she recently designed for Dutch furniture brand Prominent. After all, that was the prime reason I had approached this extraordinary woman for an interview!
Lees je dit interview liever in het Nederlands? Ga dan naar Trademart.nl!
For more information about the Sheila de Vries Collection, go to Prominent.nu.
When I started preparing for today’s interview, I was amazed by all the things you have accomplished. Haute couture collections, a television show on American home shopping channel QVC and of course your designs for HRH Princess Beatrix. What is it like to look back on such a tremendous career?
Last year I celebrated my fortieth year in the fashion industry at the Okura in Amsterdam. It was such an amazing experience to see back all the pieces I had designed throughout the years. Many of my clients have been wearing my designs for decades. They carefully store each item in special clothing bags. Sometimes clients ask me to alter one of their older garments. I take in the shoulders for instance, depending on what’s in style at the moment. My clothes don’t have to be in a museum, I prefer it if people can simply enjoy wearing them for many, many years.
In that respect your design philosophy has a lot in common with Prominent. How did your collaboration come about?
The director of Prominent visited my store on Amsterdam’s Cornelis Schuytstraat a while ago and he suggested that we work together. I had never heard of Prominent before, but as an interior design afficionado I instantly loved the idea. By now I know the company very well. It is such a beautiful brand with so many great-looking, durable designs. First and foremost, Prominent is about sitting comfortably – very simple when you think about it. Their furniture lasts a lifetime. You can even pass it on to your children. Prominent’s designs and mine have a lot in common in that respect. Our companies don’t settle for ‘good enough’.
When we started our collaboration, Prominent asked me to put together a moodboard. I ended up making two of them so that we had multiple moods to choose from. In the end we matched so well creatively that we chose to realize both. The basis of the collection is neutral and combines durable, soft fabrics with luxurious leather accents. Quality has to come first! I added organic, feminine shapes such as the buttoned back of the sofa we’re sitting on right now. Of course the eye catcher of the collection is the club chair with the floral print by Designers Guild. Comfort is very important to both Prominent and me – which is exactly why our unique collaboration made so much sense.
So, what does your own home look like?
My home is very colorful and is filled to the brim with all the items I bought during my many trips abroad. It has three floors and a lovely rooftop terrace overlooking the entire city. My favorite part is the television room with its lilac colored walls. My husband and I love to relax there on the Moroccan sofa’s we once had custom made.
And what’s your most beloved item in your home?
When I was living in a seventeenth century building on Rokin in Amsterdam, I bought a painting with a Chinese lady of the night – at least, that’s what I suspect she was! She stands by the window with her face covered by shadow, it’s all very mysterious. And she still intrigues me every time I walk past her.
I often hear fashion designers say how important it is to buy expensive pieces that last a long time. But what would your plan be if you had a clothing budget of one hundred euro’s a month?
I’d run the market to buy some beautiful fabrics and sit down behind my sewing machine to make everything myself. Use your imagination! That’s how I got started – I was already going to the fabric market with my mother when I was eleven years old.
Nowadays, I almost exclusively wear my own designs. I only have to buy knitted sweaters, because my label doesn’t make them at the moment. But if I buy something from another brand, I do enjoy customizing it. I race home right after I buy it to alter the collar, for example.
I think you’re very hip!
My thoughts exactly! A couple of times a year, I travel to Istanbul and go out into the small hours with a few good friends. It’s such a joy to see how much attention people pay to their outfits over there! Their fashion is miles ahead of what’s happening here in the Netherlands at the moment.
What is it with the Dutch that we dress so badly?
Well! Things seemed to be improving a few years but when I went out for dinner at Le Garage a while ago, I looked around me and got the impression that we’re slipping again. I saw the umpteenth man in jeans and a shirt and I just knew he was thinking to himself he had put together a decent outfit. But of course it takes a lot more than that!
How do your start a good wardrobe?
With a few basic items such as a good blouse, a skirt, a winter coat and a trench coat. If you spend at least 300 euro’s on each item, you’ll have a collection of solid pieces that you can pull out of your closet for years without even looking.
What do you think about today’s fashion?
The zeitgeist seems to have changed for good over the last few years. Everyone wants cheaper stuff – and that also goes for the well-off. I remember some of them used to order over ten evening gowns in one session for a cruise that they were going to make. But that time seems to have passed for good. Things are going so badly all over the world, people have become a lot more careful with their money.
I think fast fashion truly is garbage. Together with my son Gideon I sometimes walk into an H&M store and it amazes us every time how badly everything is made. A dress for only twenty euro’s, that simply not possible. Many people close their eyes for the way these garments are made and I strongly disapprove of that.
Lidewij Edelkoort recently predicted the end of fashion as we know it now. According to her, fashion revolves around the image and everything that happens around it – the celebrities, the fashion shows, the magazines…
Oh well, Lidewij Edelkoort…she’s a contemporary of mine who once started as a stylist and built her business from there. I think as a fashion designer you’re also an entrepreneur and so have have to pay attention to every aspect of the business. You have to be able to give interviews, to sell your work and to design stores. In fact, I’m organizing a show in my store tomorrow with over seventy clients. Isn’t it marvelous that they can all buy something then and there? I find that very important!
Do you have a tip for fashion designers who are just starting out?
Start small, with a limited and accessible collecion and make sure you build a small group of returning customers – even if it’s only five of them. And open a little boutique, that’s how I got started as well. We need to get rid of all that big stuff – it’s the small designers who deserve our support! I mean, isn’t it fantastic when you get to wear something that no one else has?