If you travel all the way from New York to Arnhem just to attend the fashion biennial in this relatively obscure Dutch city, half the size of Pittsburgh, you can expect people to notice. Your waiter will witness your accent — and the fact that you’re not drinking a huge glass of milk with lunch like everyone else — and ask if you came just for the show, and well, did you like it? Your jolly white-haired cab driver will crack a few embarrassing jokes about the Big Apple before waxing poetic about how lovely it is when the festival’s on. And despite Vogue calling the $2.5-million production the “Greatest Fashion Event You’ve Never Heard Of,” it will seem, when you’re there, like Arnhem’s gravitational pull has shifted in some small but significant way.
Of course, that’s exactly what the Dutch government would like you to feel. It has invested heavily in the Arnhem Mode Biennale because, with the world-renowned ArtEZ school as a formidable anchor, it hopes Arnhem could eventually be the Netherlands’s own Antwerp — a European fashion capital with all the associated economic development. And so every other year for eight years running, it has helped the school and the show’s organizers rope in some of the biggest names in the business, like Margiela and Raf Simons, to participate in exhibitions and installations that would seem impressive even in a city six times Arnhem’s size. The novelty factor kind of works, too; one insider I met when I attended the school fashion shows there on Thursday laughed about having been drinking with Nicholas Kirkwood and other glitterati in some strange local dive bar the week before.
While I missed that outing, sadly, I did capture plenty of other highlights from the 2011 Arnhem Mode Biennale. You can view them in the slideshow at right.
What Iceland may lack in sunshine — getting, on average, less than half the amount of rays New Yorkers enjoy annually — it easily compensates for in natural beauty. When it's light outside, the landscape is an almost otherworldly sight, with blackened crags of lava softened by bright heaps of moss and glaciers melting into never-ending expanses of steel-blue sea. When it's dark, there's a symphony of northern lights to behold. With all of that visual stimulation surrounding them it's no wonder Icelanders are aesthetically gifted, with a fashion sense that rivals Stockholm's in its cacophany of colors and textures and a community of designers that needn't look further than their own backyards for inspiration. When Sight Unseen was invited to Reykjavik this past weekend to attend the opening of Iceland's third annual DesignMarch festival, that was precisely what struck us most: Whether the work we saw directly referenced the country's landscape and culture or just told a story about its current state of affairs — as with one designer we met who had to shutter her architecture practice after the bank crash and start anew — the show felt like a singularly local celebration.
If you've been paying attention, you know by now that the Sight Unseen team spent nearly all of New York Design Week this year holed up in an abandoned lumber building, manning our very first pop-up shop and attending to all the talents we had on board for the second Noho Design District. Did we experience the rest of the weekend's offerings to their fullest? Not by a longshot. But we couldn't quite move on without offering readers some kind of behind-the-scenes take on the festivities, so we enlisted the help of two friends whose viewpoints we trust entirely and asked them be our eyes and ears: Sam Grawe, the endearingly burly editor-in-chief of Dwell, and Felix Burrichter, founder of Pin-Up magazine and local man-about-town. Grawe offered us a mini-photo album of insider moments he particularly cherished — including the back room at the Javits, pictured above, where "judging the Editors Awards requires collateral and fluids" — while Burrichter made us a list of his top 10 (er, 11) highlights from this year's show, perhaps the next best thing to cloning ourselves. See things their way right here.
There’s a lot that’s hard for Westerners to understand about Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin, the husband and wife who make up the South African furniture and fashion duo Dokter and Misses. First, there’s the fact that they hail from Johannesburg, a city whose art scene has held sway in the international market for years but whose few industrial designers are hardly household names. Then there are their references, which remain resolutely sub-equatorial: In our interview, we talked about game reserves, braais (the South African term for barbecue), a Nigerian dancehall/reggae musician named Dr. Alban, and an artist who uses the techniques of the Ndebele tribe, from the Mpumalanga region of the country. Perhaps most confounding is their name, which mixes English and Dutch honorifics and calls to mind everything from sci-fi movies to secretaries — and which the two refuse to explain. It’s lucky, then, that their work is so instantly likable and wonderfully easy to grasp.