“When your textile is strong, you don’t have to invent trousers with three legs,” Stephan Schneider
has said. His spring collection, "Common Ivy," is proof that he's right. It's a subtle, atmospheric blend of preppy shirts and his signature knits, with an ever-so-slightly gothic undertone—like an old college campus.
The designer, based and educated in Antwerp, develops each of his fabrics from scratch. "I choose every thread for the warp and weft myself and try to imagine what it will look like once finished—when you combine two threads of color A with two of color B," he says. This season, the results are featherlight cottons, silky shirting, and textural two-tone knits.
Get your fix of Stephan in our interview below.
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Alice Newell-Hanson: "Common Ivy" makes me think "Ivy League," and the column print reminds me of university campuses. What was everyone wearing while you were at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp?
Stephan Schneider: I have always been obessed with the tension on campuses. During my studies at the Academy, most of the students dressed down in second-hand clothes. It all had to look effortless and art-schoolish. I really stood out, dressed head-to-toe in Yamamoto! I was one of the few who actually bought designer fashion.
When I was a teenager, I was sort of a fashion maniac and I worked throughout school so that I could buy suits. I read magazines from the UK, like Blitz
and The Face.
Then I moved from Antwerp to Germany. Unfortunately, after a couple of months I stopped dressing up and buying clothes. When you're busy with clothes from early morning til late at night, you lose interest in wearing them yourself. It's a pity, because I really enjoyed dressing up.
ANH: Antwerp seems to encourage very strong, individualist aesthetics. Where does the city's creative energy come from?
SS: Belgium is split into a Flemish-speaking part and a French-speaking part. Antwerp is the cultural capital of Vlaanderen, the Flemish part, and throughout its history it has attracted all sorts of creative people who value quality in food, furniture, and fashion. So the standard of the shops and restaurants is extraordinarily high. At the same time, more than 40 different nationalities live in what is a tiny city. The combination of a village size, where you can concentrate on your work, with a cosmopolitan atmosphere, gives the city a strong energy.
ANH: You now teach at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. What interests you about the way your students approach fashion?
SS: Most students in Berlin are fascinated by the process and not the result. In my Antwerp studio, I spend most of my time giving identity to a product. Honestly, I dislike the process of designing but I am proud to see the finished garments on a rack. From working with students, I appreciate the balance between process and product.
The creative process does not stop with the sketch of the silhouette. During the manufacturing and, later, during the presentation, you have to concentrate so that the original soul—the story and emotion of the garment—does not get lost in the production process.
ANH: If you could do university again, what would you do differently?
SS: I would rent another apartment. I was a vegetarian living in the Meatpacking District, above a slaughterhouse!
ANH: As someone who makes impeccably detailed clothes, what are some of the things you obsess about with a piece of clothing?
SS: For me, garments should reflect humor and spontaneity. Those characteristics are what make a dead piece of cloth come alive. I don't think of fashion as a matter of luxurious status symbols, but as garments with emotion, story, and atmosphere.
ANH: What are you obsessed with outside of work right now?
SS: I recently inherited my grandma's house in the German countryside. I enjoy gardening there a lot; cutting trees and bushes. Belgium is a tiny country and heavily built-up, so I miss nature!
ANH: You develop each of your fabrics yourself. Can you explain the process? And what are some of your favorites for spring?
SS: Designing the fabrics is quite a mathematical, technical process. It is hard work, but once the patterns are woven or printed in factories in Italy or Portugal, they come alive in the garments and give them my personal signature. Some of the factories I've worked with since my very first collection. For Spring/Summer 2012, I really enjoyed the prints of balconies with ivy wrapped around them.
ANH: When you dropped by OCLA last year, you'd just come back from Vegas. What would your dream vacation be?
SS: It would be in a city with the food, bars, and service of Tokyo, combined with the weather and hills of Los Angeles.
ANH: And do you think you'd ever have time to go there—when you're not teaching or designing?
SS: Hard question. In the words of one of my favorite Culture Club songs, "Time won't give me time."
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