With the arrival of each season it is quite easy to be washed away by the the relentless current of fashion. The seemingly incessant release of designer look books at key points in the calendar often bewilder and unfortunately allow a few key ones to slip right by. There are even designers whose work I admire but for one reason or another they fail to make it on the pages of this blog. Until very recently, Stephan Schneider was one such designer. Thankfully, I have the third issue of b magazine to thank for rectifying this shortcoming.
Historically, why have I not followed and enthused over his every collection? The simple reason is that Stephan Schneider is a designer that goes about his business quietly. One has to look. For the last eight years he has shunned the circus of fashion week, allowing his designs rather than the theatrics of a show to make the required statement. I know that whenever I've encountered Schneider's designs in b store or in retail outlets across the continent I have noted their good cut and use of stunning fabrics. His concern is in the detail, attractive to people who want to make less effort when dressing. He designs each fabric himself, whilst the label has its own production facilities in Belgian factories where pieces are cut by hand and time is spent on the finest finishing. The moment his latest designs began to hit the shop floor I sought out the designer to learn more about him. Below, we take a closer look at his stamp collecting inspired SS11 collection and discuss his approach to design...
SS: You graduated top of your class from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1994 and have since established a quiet following over the last sixteen years. Looking back to the very beginning, what were your inspirations, your dreams and the driving catalyst behind launching your label?
Stephan Schneider: My inspiration still comes from the same source as right from the very beginning. It's my fascination for the visual mass around us; mass consumerism, mass communication, mass entertainment. As a fashion designer, I should aim for individuality and uniqueness but at the same time I am surrounded by mass consumption. Surrounded by the same Louis Vuitton campaigns and Celine Dion songs all over the world's shopping centres. I want to communicate my collection and my products in a different way. The actual selling of a garment is to me the final step of the design process. So, right from the very beginning I wanted to have my own store here in Antwerp and wished to experience and find out for myself who the real customer is. The selling period to buyers in the showroom in Paris does not reflect the real customer. I guess it was this attention to and desire for reality which was and still continue to be, the catalyst for my work.
SS: Aside from it being your name, what does Stephan Schneider mean to you?
Stephan Schneider: I do not think of Stephan Schneider as a brand. Luckily I am one of the few independent designers who earn their money by selling garments. I don't need to sell cosmetics, licensed accessories bearing my name or seek any consultancy work from big companies. I see myself as a garment creator, not a brand.
SS: How has your approach to or view of fashion shifted during the life of the label?
Stephan Schneider: When I started the business with my graduation collection, it was my dream to have my own store, a catwalk show in Paris, a company with employees in order not to have to pattern cut by myself any more. My dreams were to become a big company one day. Over the years, I have realised that it is a strength to stay concentrated and efficient. To produce in the country you live so that you are able to deliver exactly the product you designed. I sometimes compare a fashion house with a restaurant: There is no haute cuisines chain in the world as the chef has to cook in his own kitchen. To me fashion should be like this. At the end of the 90s fashion became synonymous with big stock market companies hiring designers just to leave a strong impression in the media through the use of a very strong and aggressive way of design language. Fashion was accurately planned by marketing managers. Today, I feel that it is my strength and even my luxury to be able to draw the patterns!
SS: You have quietly and assuredly built up a selection of stockists and buyers. Do you think there is a particular Stephan Schneider man? If so, do you think about them when you design each collection?
Stephan Schneider: I think the Stephan Schneider man is not a fashion follower or even a magazine reader. He wants to discover clothes by himself. Like reading a book and opting not to watch the movie version of it. Therefore, when I design I always take care to leave enough space for the personality of the wearer to find its place in the garment.
SS: In the recent issue of b magazine you summed up your attitude on the theatrics of fashion shows with and its incompatibility with your design aesthetic with; "buyers know the collection, they need to see it closely, they want to see the garments, feel the fabrics." Without having the ability to feel the fabrics and to inspect the cuts in person, could you describe the key features of Collect.
Stephan Schneider: For SS11, I was inspired by the act of collecting stamps. My father was a dedicated collector and I became fascinated by his passion. Soon the act of collection will become a very unusual habit. It takes too much time. You browse quickly on the net from side to side. Therefore you have to take your time to watch the SS pictures on my side, then you will be surprised.
SS: What was the starting point for the collection and how did it evolve in to the collection we see today?
Stephan Schneider: In every collection I want to challenge myself to work with a material or garment that I've never worked with before. For SS11, it was ultra light and delicate viscose fabrics. I treated them with a special dying technique to make them as soft as possible. Both relaxed and casual at the same time. For the construction of the garments I wanted them to be as simple and effortless as possible, yet sophisticated, so the facing of the jackets and shirts functioned as an extra closure which gave the impression of wearing two garments at the same time.
SS: With your small design team, I was surprised to learn that you design and produce each fabric yourself. What are you particularly proud of for SS11?
Stephan Schneider: The fabric design is a way to keep the design language very personal and intimate. For SS11, the outline block of stamps was used as a polka dot pattern which looked amazing. I also love the Carre scarf pattern of my fathers stamp collection.
SS: With each collection, there is a sense that you offer a contemporary reinterpretation of classics. There is a sense of tradition. With this in mind, is there a moment in or era of style that you are particularly drawn to?
Stephan Schneider: I never draw my inspiration from history books or future forecasts. I am fascinated by every day pop, youth culture that was mostly expressed in the 80s. Bands like ABC or Les Rita Misouko introduced fashion to me.
SS: Your design aesthetic is predominantly focused on the detail. What are the details that you wish more men gave more thought to?
Stephan Schneider: Please do not tumble dry all that you wear.
SS: What excites you about the future of menswear?
Stephan Schneider: Male customers are extremely loyal. They examine my garments and enjoy discovering each detail for themselves. I personally enjoy it if my work is approached with an element of humour, curiosity and vanity. I feel that these basic human aspects are the future of menswear whereas womenswear will always have to reflect power and sex.
SS: Finally, what's next for Stephan Schneider
Stephan Schneider: I am not interested in new projects, not even in changes. My definition of quality is continuation with passion. So, next is the same as yesterday.
Photography by Stephan Heinrichs.
Models from Tomorrow is another day.