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Stephan Schneider Meets Neighbour

Cut from original cloth. Stephan Schneider and his closely woven atelier truly occupy a special position within the looms of today’s contemporary garmenteurs. The designer has remained at the helm of his label, forging his own incisive pattern in the industry since 1994. Ruled by a singular aesthetic code, the label focuses on completely original textile development and its own signature tailoring style. It has remained an enigma of sorts to its contemporaries, with an ability to rival high designer monikers yet also preserve its cachet amongst the younger street-wear assembly. This should come to no surprise, but rather as a clear result of an ethos built on steadfast individuality over its near three decade timeline thus far. On all tiers, Stephan Schneider has chosen insularity and to detach itself from much of the superfluity that taints current fashion systems. Evading implosive factors such as trend, hype and saturated popularity have afforded the brand longevity. By designing with soulful intent and purpose for the wearer, Schneider & co. have lit their own way with independent freedom intact and a vision un-allured by opportunities for futile economic expansion.

In 2005, a flagship expansion outside of its origin city of Antwerp, came to fruition in Tokyo, where his cult-like following was most prevalent. The store opening was orchestrated by a Japanese firm who placed the Belgian-bred label on a street adjacent to Louis Vuitton and directly opposite of Chanel, in the melange of the luxury sector. Perhaps it felt like an opportunity to raise the stakes, to be deservedly recognized among those prestigious names and the fanfare market that came with that. Stephan Schneider remained completely hands-on in the process, outfitting the new establishment from its fixtures to merchandising and even adjusting his garments to tailor to a Japanese demographic. It was a calculated move, and one that could shift the label into another stratosphere.

Mainstream success was imminent, but could it also be a detriment?

It was at this time that something grew evident in the business and the designer himself. This new venture that was meant to strike gold, struck more like an epiphanic bolt. Conclusions were clear that such larger scale expansion might tarnish the essence of what Stephan Schneider represented, and thus become less attractive to his devoutest of Japanese clientele. Those who were accustomed to the once rareified accessibility of the brand were turned off by its leap into what could be considered by some as the mainstream. The discovery was telling, and served as microcosmic insight to the sensibility of his customer base worldwide. Funnily enough, at heart Schneider could not help but agree with the sentiment. They chose to close down the location and never look backward. The earnest nature of their independent operation had become integral to its DNA, and its quiet defiance against the fashion system was inherent to its charm.

There are designers who simply sell, and then there are designers with soul. The spirit of Stephan Schneider is what should be perceived as utilitarianism in disguise. Utility disguised by a refinement of textiles, uniquely streamlined tailoring but also, what the designer calls a nuanced irritation in design. His clothes serve as tools for enriching life, while also act as weapons to arm us against fast-minded fashion. This notion is better explained in our following dialogue with Stephan Schneider, from a brief and wonderful visit he made to us here in Vancouver.

A fascination for normality & envisioning the extraordinarily ordinary within garment design.

As fashion designers, we should work on the extraordinary; on the special; on the one-of-a-kind, but at the same time I have a love and fascination for the normal. Normality, daily life and for the humility of it all. The proverbial mess around me is a big inspiration for me while at the same time I dislike it. I hate it. If I really loved just high street garments, then I wouldn’t be doing fashion. I dislike them, but I’m fascinated that people all over the world are buying, at this very moment, the same Benetton pullover or same Nike sneaker, and they listen to the same Celine Dion song in every hotel. I have a fascination for this normality and I want to rework it in my vision of fashion design, and to make us aware of this extraordinary normal life.

 

The musical chairs concept (from Group Theory Spring-Summer '01) was so brilliant, you feel like you're at a children's birthday party rather than a fashion show...

It’s really like you say. Isn’t a fashion show like a children’s birthday party? Isn’t it a bit ridiculous - this money, this time, this pressure we put on those 12 minutes? And we have those boys walking back and forth, and we applaud them and go to the next one. So musical chairs was very much a symbol for me, of the fashion show. It was a view of humour about the fashion business itself.

From "It All Starts With" Autumn-Winter 2015/16

On his real purpose as a garment designer.

For me, my role as a fashion designer is also to use irony, and to irritate. I don’t want to make something too smooth. Because you could consider my garments as very wearable or very pleasing. The pricing is pleasing, the cut is pleasing, the colours are pleasing. But actually, it is not that pleasing. Try them on and if you have a closer look at them, they are not that easy which I find a compliment. On one end I’m pleasing, on the other I like to irritate and make things complicated.

From "It All Starts With" Autumn-Winter 2015/16

From "It All Starts With" Autumn-Winter 2015/16


From "Collect" Spring-Summer 2011

Making a statement against the hypersaturation of imagery in fashion and social media.

Visualized word - all these visuals without sending a message anymore. You get thousands of pictures of food and landscapes. I want to hear some message from the people. I want to hear the story about how you “cooked a beautiful dinner last night…”. In the fashion world it is only images of sex, of luxury. Fashion has become really just those stereotyped images. One is the rock & roll, one is the sex, and one is the luxury.

(Gasps) I’m fine with it but it doesn’t attract me. I still want to be attracted by fashion. I’m a fashion designer and I should also be a fashion consumer. I want to be inspired, I want to be excited by fashion itself, but the current system makes it a bit hard.

 

A love & hate relationship with textile development and the fabric-making process.

I have to tell you, I dislike doing it. I don’t like to do it, I hate to design fabrics but I think I need to! I used to source textiles but at the end of the day I would look at my garments and know that they are not my fabrics. To me that felt too industrial and didn't have my signature. I looked at the process from designing to until they were in the store on the rack. So many hands touched them that they were not my garments anymore. At that moment, I felt that we needed to do something at the textile stage so that even after so many hands touch them, they still look very much like Stephan Schneider. So, I started designing them and asking my makers if I could create my own loom, my own shades and colours. In my German mathematic mind I had to calculate according to their minimums. I would love to use fabrics just from the textile fair and make clothes out of it, but I feel I am not allowed to do it. Perhaps it’s not true, perhaps I should give it a try...but that is where we are right now.

I am a fan of silhouettes right now. I like a very two-dimensional, clean, workwear normality like we spoke about. I like a very normal silhouette which then has an irritation of the texture, of the details, which is for me more fascinating than to experiment with volumes at the moment.

From "Flattering Flags" SS 2016

From "Flattering Flags" SS 2016

From "Flattering Flags" SS 2016

"Marbles in Cans" SS 2013

His evolutionary philosophy from the start and coining the term, “Inter Chic”.

I started between 1990 and '94. Belgian fashion at the time was distressed, dark, historical and the world was looking at Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester in awe. Dries Van Noten was not as accepted as he is today. So what was really important right away from the teachers at my academy was to directly search for the next step. The moment students referenced these dark, distressed silhouettes, the teacher would say that's not what we should aim for. They push you a lot to develop your own atmosphere, philosophy and creation.

My graduation collection was called the same as the name of my company today: INTER CHIC. “Inter” is a bit industrial, sounds like a shipping company. It is ironic. And also the idea of being “in-between”, a place where I see my collection existing. Then there is “Chic”, a puzzling word which is highly used in fashion. But I like this “Inter” and “Chic” balance that sounds pleasing and elegant. I presented a collection in-between seasons and in-between centuries. I took pieces from all the ends of the centuries: the Roman period, Egyptian, 19th century and year 2000 and mixed them together to show a bit of fin-de-siècle.

 

On creative control and the true luxury of maintaining independence.

I'm a bit of a stubborn independent. I can only continue to work with this passion and energy because I know every moment I can create whenever I want to. I have no contract with anyone. There is no one above me, not even an agent I have a contract with. 12 years ago I got an offer to build a store in Tokyo. It was a beautiful location but I refused because I didn’t want to have any obligation to them for the future. So, this freedom is an immense luxury and energy day by day.

There was a period between 2000 and 2005 where I tried to grow the company. The company that built 400 Paul Smith stores in Japan were searching for the next Paul Smith. They came up to me and said, “Cmon, your clothes are pleasing, you’re at a good age and we want to develop business with you because your jacket now costs something like $400, and we can make it for $250, with better quality!”. So it was tempting for me to try this out, and I worked with this huge Japanese company for 5 years. They built a store next to Chanel, opposite of Louis Vuitton, for me. But then I felt, “It’s not me, It’s not me!”. It was my garments, I designed every zip, I designed the store, the flowers. It was a beautiful store…and still it wasn’t me. I realized that scale is a very important factor. The Japanese love small scale and the moment they felt that I was aiming for a bigger scale, my Japanese customers didn’t like it anymore. They didn’t like that it became perfect for them. I changed the sleeve length a little bit, made it better for them. I changed the length of the pants, they hated it. They felt it wasn’t hands-on anymore, and I’m so grateful that they can feel I’m so hands on.

"Fragments of a Home" AW 2016


"The Sprinkler Collection" SS 2003

On Flagship stores versus the Multibrand store.

I saw that also my flagship store in Japan of two floors and 400 square meters of only my product, wasn’t so strong. I love multi-label stores. I don’t like flagship stores and I think the time of flagship stores is in a way, over. I still have mine because I’m very stubborn, I started it and want to carry it until I die. But actually I understand that people enjoy rather seeing the personal vision of each storeowner and I'm very proud to see my clothes in those stores. That’s why I’m here with you today. I love to travel around and very proud to see my garments in selected stores, because they are quite strong in those stores. If you see them all on their own, maybe they are less strong than to see them balanced with other collections and transformed by the store.

 

An adage on ageing and keeping a Stephan Schneider archive collection.

If you come to our store, the same carpet is there from 22 years ago. The same door, the same handle, the same paint, the same ceiling, the same light. I love things to age. It’s amazing that I didn’t change anything for 22 years and that it aged and that it looks a little bit messy, a little bit dirty if you might say. But I don’t want to change, I think everything that ages with quality, ages well. I also think that my clothing ages well. I still wear garments from 20 years ago, and I like them. I think it's also a compliment to feel that even the earlier pieces I've started to like more. My definition of quality is - passion with continuation. Continuation for me is very important, so of course things that age have a certain continuation in them.

On archiving the collection...I should do this, on one hand. But on the other, I also love to sell things and give them to people. When I have a sample sale I love to see guys be able to buy for $50. In the beginning of the discussion we also spoke about freedom. To own nothing also gives me freedom. If I had this archive of 2000 pieces it would be a heavy pressure on my shoulder. To bring along, to take care of. I have a small archive of 30 pieces that I take care of, change the bags from year to year and have a nice place for it, but to have a whole archive would be too much responsibility. I’d rather get rid of it and have people enjoy it. And, I have a couple of really good customers and they have their own Stephan Schneider archives, which I think is amazing.