A true visionary strives to create something that is authentic. When the pureness that comes from their internal idea exudes a creative energy, this energy is what people gravitate towards, it’s where the soul of the idea lies.
Stephan Schneider’s approach to design is definitely authentic. Through his intuition he has defied expectations, and voiced his own unique language for his brand. Culture and memories play a big factor in his designs which admirably are perfectly understated. It also seems that his creations are made for a greater purpose with craftsmanship in mind. It is this type of fearlessness and devotion that makes his eponymous collection untouchable. It has paved the way for his predecessors to realize that with hard work and an integral vision, they too can start a successful brand on their own terms.
We interviewed the Belgian designer during his visit to Vancouver with his business partner Martin Perroset.
Interview by Redia Soltis
Photos by Jennifer Latour
(Special Thanks to Gravity Pope Tailored Goods)
Where did you grow up?
I was brought up in Duisburg, an industrial town in Germany. My education was scientific and traditional. My father was a pharmacist and chemist. My mum with her eccentric style was the only artistic part of my childhood.
What kind of music and culture were you into as a teenager?
It was all about post punk music for me like Hazy Fantayzee, Strawberry Switchblade or Orange Juice.
What was it about fashion that made you want to be a designer?
I first discovered fashion when I was 16 and spent a year in an English boarding school. There I became fascinated by the London designers of the eighties. During this period I was discovering shops like The House of Beauty & Culture, and became aware that an alternative view on fashion also existed. A view that had nothing to do with luxury but more a reaction to reality. From then on I wanted to become a fashion designer.
Is there any designers that you can say paved the way for you?
These were the late 80’s men’s collections by Yohji Yamamoto. They were full of humour with a great sense of craftsmanship. I still own a lot of pieces from this period.
You went to school at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. What was that like during the 90’s?
I feel privileged to have witnessed Antwerp in the nineties. We as students from the academy were dressers at the first shows for emerging designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela.
Year after year a handful of graduates went to Paris to present their collection’s there. It was very stimulating and gave me the energy to start my own brand immediately after I graduated.
You collection has been compared to those of the ‘Antwerp 6’ that went to the same school as you, and have established a distinct ‘Made in Belgium’ signature. Can you explain the idea behind this type of made in Belgium philosophy?
Belgian designers concentrate on their work and are very hands on. There are so many brands out there building their reputation with designing for the catwalk and making money with cosmetics and accessories. Belgians keep their radical and fresh approach creating garments with soul, character and atmosphere.
Did you always want to design for both a man and a woman?
Yes, even at the Academy I graduated with a mixed collection of both mens and ladies. Using the same fabrics for both is the essential signature of my collection.
Would you consider your clothing collection timeless?
I don’t follow any trends or create visual images that are meant to be seen in the context of today. I still want to make contemporary collections that irritates us, makes you think.
How long have you been partners with Martin for the collection?
Martin joined the team in 2005 when he graduated from fashion school in Switzerland. We immediately became partners in crime and I couldn’t run the company without him.
The Stephan Schneider collection has been around since the 90’s and has proven to be successful. Was it challenging sometime for your brand to keep up with the times?
I have never really struggled from any economic disasters… like I remember the crash on Wall Street or SARS in Hong Kong. My garments have nothing to do with the luxury industry because of their honest prices so people liked them crisis or no crisis.
I work fully independent from any financial backer and agents. I create,produce and distribute the garments all from our studio in Antwerp.
You approach the fashion industry on your own terms and it has worked for you. For example I read your company started making money when you stopped doing runway shows. Can you talk a bit more about this?
When I started my collection, I thought I had to follow the golden rules. A catwalk show in Paris, use a PR Agency, and sell your clothes through your image.
After time, I felt that the catwalk and PR easily represented a design language based on glamour, power and sex. The human and personal aspects of fashion tend to disappear.
I realized that is actually a strength to stay focused, efficient and produce local. I order to deliver exactly the product that I have designed.
The moment I stopped to follow the golden rules and put effort to communicate only through my products, my business started to grow steadily.
It seems you are a hard worker; you do things with passion and conviction. You have never taken out loans from anyone to make your independent funded collection. In fact you grew organically and made decisions for the brand that was realistic, and not frivolous. It must be more gratifying to see your brand succeed because you really did do it on your own. Do you have any advice for a new fashion labels that wants to start their own company?
I would say ‘Lose all your fears and just start!’ Be radical in your approach and not dream to work with big groups which will suck you out anyhow. They are more interested in excel sheets, and the stock exchange rather then fashion.
Is it challenging for your label to see places like H&M, and Zara popping up everywhere copying high-end labels like yourself and pricing it at such a low price?
It is really challenging but fulfilling at the same time. I never visit a COS or Zara store with the wish to wear any of the garments. Mine are so much better!
Your collection for 2016-2017 was called ‘Fragments Of A Home’ which was a homage to your family home you lived in during your childhood. The collection took on the mood of this home. It seemed like a therapeutic and personal project in some sense.
I wouldn’t call it therapeutic. My mom and dad passed away two years ago and I had this empty house where I was born. We had more than 20 oil paintings of farmhouses with sunrises and flowers buckets. I didn’t know what to do with them. For AW16/17 I overpainted them with a dark night coloured layer and gave them a new identity. I printed those paintings on fabric which looked amazing.
Can you tell us what inspired your current collection ‘Desperately Seeking Serpentine’?
The name refers to the 80’s movie ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ with Madonna. The collection was influenced by new wave and pop, mainstream and alternative music. The collection was also inspired by the bittersweet melancholy that comes when you are listening to sad love songs.
We printed the lyrics of famous love songs from different times on Serpentines, the paper streamers typically used for New Year’s, birthdays, and happy occasions.
This contrast, like the movie was the starting point.