Jan Jan Van Essche is the Designer Project of Pitti Immagine Uomo 103
Words Gianmarco Gronchi
It takes time to appreciate Jan Jan Van Essche’s collections fully. And with his fashion show, hosted by Pitti Immagine in Florence, the Belgian fashion designer sought to give that to his audience: time. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first collection of the eponymous brand, launched in June 2010, was titled COLLECTION#1 – yukkuri, a Japanese word meaning “take it easy” or “step by step.”
In the stunning setting of the architectural complex of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, Van Essche presented the new winter collection as Designer Project for the 103rd edition of Pitti Immagine Uomo. Despite his 12 years in the business, the designer had never before used a fashion show to present his collections. For this debut, Van Essche collaborated with choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, creating a liturgy that started out slow and quickly grew in pace. The fashion show, titled Rite, was intended to be an homage to Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, so much so that there were performers and dancers along with the models. When the fashion show was over, spectators were invited to go out into the church cloister. There, the models created an exciting tableau vivant with the ancient frescoes in the background.
Fashion collections by Van Essche are made of sharing, in the certainty that a new humanity is possible. The Belgian designer speaks of “inverse multiculturalism, which in no way corresponds to the concept of ethnicity and instead takes cognizance of how some patterns and some garments find themselves identical from Turkey to Asia”.With this mantra, Van Essche works on simplification, offering a perspective of freedom to human physicality. The collection presented in Florence is a hymn to genderlessness, with wool kaftans, capes, multi-layered looks, and pajama suits. Van Essche blends different traditions, with references to Asian and African clothing, but hybridizes them with European tradition. At the center, however, there’s the body, free-to-interpret democratic clothes designed for slow viewing. Only slowness, in fact, allows one to fully grasp the sartorial details of the collection, such as the overall suit that opens to become a double-breasted jacket or the suits with kimono jackets with asymmetrical closures.
Van Essche’s is a refined, mature, even playful minimalism. It is a fashion that conquers without scandalizing, that is well aware of its visual and cultural references – Ann Demeulemeester above all – but capable of making an original synthesis of them. And the Florence show is magic.