If there is any young European designer that have managed to ruminate visually on the eternal dynamic between fashion and art it is surely Jan Taminiau, a Dutchman, whose exotic oeuvre makes any of his shows cool, one-of-a-kind events.
Taminiau first came to my attention three years ago with a show staged rather dramatically in a splendid old glasshouse on a Paris day of vicious rain and squalls. Yet that seemed to sum up the contradictory impulses in this designer, whose fashion is all about unexpected and contradictory beauty.
Entitled “Follies”, the collection featured Taminiau’s obsession with volumes and his other key signature, adaptability. Several looks appeared twice on the runway, as what appeared to be two-piece outfits were really dresses whose uppers were first dragged up to the neck, next flipped down to created voluptuous curvy cocktails. Throughout the show, which also featured glossy, femme fatales in aged gold negligee dresses and models with wild, disheveled hair, lightning crackled outside.
“There’s always elements of romanticism and nostalgia in my shows,” Taminiau tells me over lunch near his Paris showroom.
Those two elements are also apparent in another bizarre Jantaminiau concept – he tends to write his name as one word –“Postbag” couture, where the designer managed to created couture quality clothes out of used postman delivery bags.
Taminiau first steps in fashion were fairly traditional – after a few post high school years in Bohemia, he entered The Academy of Art and Design in Arnheim, followed by a master’s program at the same Dutch city’s Fashion Institute. Upon graduation, he did working stints with Olivier Theyskens, corset maker Hubert Barrere and famed lace specialist Hurel.
However, when Jan finally launched his own house, instead of designing ready-to-wear he created an haute couture house, a rarity in Holland, and unique in the neighborhood in which he finally opened his headquarters – Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
Taminiau resolutely refuses to name any of his clients, but last June the Dutch media trumpeted the fact that Maxima, the Princess of the Netherlands, wore one of his postbag trouser suits, replete with the national flag’s red, white and blue colors, to the opening of the Arnhem Fashion Biennale.
Jan credits his grandmother, an antique dealer, with inspiring his first creative impulses.
“I was used to seeing beauty daily in my grandmother’s antique store, though children were not allowed to play there among the chandeliers and furniture. But you could muck around up in the attic with broken things, and that was the playground where I fantasized. There was stuff in boxes with tissue paper you play with, which was also a bit scary. That triggered me, fantasy wise. I was fascinated by the idea that something that had lived for so long, when broken no longer existed,” he beams in recollection of his childhood.
Taminiau, now 34, initially wanted “to create on my own,” and quit one art college to wander Europe, eventually ending up in Paris, where he met the Conde Nast Editor, Susan Train, a famed fashion fixture in the City of Light.
“I remember she told me simply, that her mother once explained that even if you marry a rich man you have to know how to set a table otherwise, your servants will just do it their way, and you won’t be mistress of your own house, or own life. So I went to school to Arnhem and started to study,” he recalls.
By 2003, Taminiau was able to publicly present his first fashion ideas in Dutch Touch. The brainchild of noted fashion dynamo Angelique Westerhof, Dutch Touch is a project uniting different design disciplines from Holland with events in New York and Paris, like “guerrilla” moments, such as mini presentations in Parisian squares, seen by hundreds exiting larger runway shows.
“I did 2D/3D, or from two to three dimensions in installations. I put woven dresses on easels and then a mannequin inside to make it 3D,” notes Jan, who once even showed in a metro station. He finally hit the French runways with his glasshouse show in July 2007 during the haute couture season, staged deliberately near a Chanel show in Parc St Germain, to attract fashionista’s returning to central Paris.
“That collection was about transformation, with many clothes hand woven. After I had made them, I cut holes to put in the arms and heads. I wanted flexibility so the dress is not just a dress, but also a top. I wanted the playfulness of a child,” stresses Jan, who has now staged four Paris shows.
Recognition came gradually, but assuredly, especially in Paris – a window display at Colette in Paris, an exhibition at the Foundation Cartier.
Taminiau sells his clothes only through his atelier by appointment, first talking with each client and fitting a toile, like a classic couturier.
“I have about 30 new clients a year. I cannot say whom. They can talk about it, if they are wearing me,” he sniffs, even if websites feature Taminiau worn by Princess Maxima, among others.
His next step will be a prêt-a-porter collection, for he concedes, “it takes five fittings to get an outfit right for a client, so we need to do clothes on the rack.”
“I dress a women who dares to be different. If you make jackets out of old postbags, your client has to be aware of what you are doing. When she is at a social event and her pals are wearing Chanel she needs to understand what’s particular about what she’s wearing. It helps her confidence,” insists Jan, who predicts that his prêt collection will debut in March next year.
Taminiau always stages his shows in both Paris and then Amsterdam, where he’s something of a rock star, working out of an atelier in a four-story former brothel with high ceilings dating from 1610.
His early shows attracted just scores in Paris, but 800 people attended his latest in Amsterdam, where a circle of cameras showed the models live on the Internet.
“It was all about people being hunted down by media or cameras everywhere, even just by people’s cell phones. And I liked the fact the models were a little nervous in front of all the cameras. That’s why I called it “’The Final Judgment in Fashion’,” he cackles, summing up his Dutch fashion crossroads of the bizarre and the beautiful.