This season, at Amsterdam Fashion Week, I met a very important man. Bold and straight talking, “The word ‘fashion’ has been so polluted that it hardly means anything anymore,” he does not mince his words. Driven by determination, he is known in the Netherlands for championing daring pioneers, whose ideas challenge what the fashion industry represents. He is Peter Leferink.
Getting To Know Mister Peter Leferink
It was a chilly morning when I first met Mister Peter Leferink. We arranged to meet for coffee at the Fashion Week tent located in Westerpark, Amsterdam. Accompanied by Iris Ruisch, the Creative Director of Amsterdam Fashion Week, the day was Friday 14 July 2017. Originally we were supposed to meet at a dinner that FashNerd organized with Launchmetrics, but unfortunately Mr Leferink, a man in high demand, was unable to make it. So it was a few weeks later that we managed to pencil in a chat.
Arriving on time, I joined him at his table. As I sat down, we briefly exchanged pleasantries before I ordered my coffee. Settling into my chair, he asked me, “What is your contribution to the fashion industry? Because another collection is not a contribution.”
“The word ‘fashion’ has been so polluted that it hardly means anything anymore. We need new pioneers.”
Taken aback by his direct approach, it took me a moment to realise that he was asking a rhetorical question. Relieved, he explained that it was a question that he always asked his students, because it is imperative for them to know what they are fighting for. I understood his point. Many creatives in this space find resistance from an industry that is not quite ready to open itself up to the possibilities that technology can offer.
A great example of someone undeterred by the rather slow adoption is Amber Slooten, one of Leferink’s students. Last year she developed a revolutionary concept to create a future in which we no longer have to wear clothes. Working together with Pinar&Viola, attendees were able to see the designer’s virtual collection projected onto a model in a skin-coloured suit, who moved to align with the movements of the CGI animated clothing.
As we talked further, we both agreed that fashion education has changed drastically over the years. Universities are now focusing a lot more on technological developments, something that Leferink finds exciting. “It means that we can use technology as tool in preliminary research, design process and the creation and presentation of one’s work.”
Dialogue and Change
As the principal design lecturer at AMFI Amsterdam, Leferink heads one of the most prominent courses at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. He is involved in the minor course that the school offers called ‘3D Hypercraft’. It provides students with the opportunity to create digital patterns that can be converted into virtual 3D prototypes. The end result is a final product that is both a real and virtual collection. “By placing design processes in a virtual program, for example, saving the Designers and brands on space, resources and people. We see that this is increasingly appreciated in industry. First, technology was primarily a means of presenting your collection, now it becomes a tool to contribute to a better world. Five years ago “product and aesthetics” were leading. Now, “process and planet” are leading,” explained Leferink.
“First, technology was primarily a means of presenting your collection, now it becomes a tool to contribute to a better world”
As we spoke more about Leferink’s work with his students, it was clear that he enjoys challenging them to think beyond what he described as the fashion industry’s extreme Conservative one-way of thinking. “My students have to see fashion as a necessity. Then we can talk about sustainability, technology or traditional craftsmanship. If you don’t see the necessity in it, then I don’t want to teach you”. Taken aback by the rather harsh words he explained, “Preparing them for reality is important because the number of jobs available in fashion is decreasing.” He continues, “So should I be telling students, make a collection, make a lovely book, do a photo shoot and then find a great job? Not all of these students are finding their dream job. So isn’t it a little crazy that, year in, year out, we still insist on feeding them this line?”
Besides teaching, Leferink is also a member of the advisory board at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Amsterdam. This is a position that has allowed him to push Future Generation’s agenda into the mainstream. He confessed that it was a platform born from his frustration with the fashion system and its devastating effect on the planet. “Future Generation originated from my surprise about the fashion system. So I created it to shape innovative visions and provide a place for students.” Presenting twice a year at Amsterdam Fashion Week, Future Generation is closely related to his work in education and talent development, “The project emphasizes my belief that the system should change and that Innovation in the industry can lead to less pollution and more sustainable life.”
Before our meeting came to an end, I wanted to know a bit more about the latest Future Generation. Scheduled to take place on 15 and 16 July 2017 in Amsterdam, Leferink explained that 11 designers and developers have been given the opportunity to shape their vision. They do this by showcasing their technological achievements, which for Leferink, should be viewed as a beacon of hope in the uncertain times that we are living in.
Looking back at the conversation we had, I have come to appreciate how Leferink is really putting up a fight for change. He understands how technology can provide many solutions, including the removal of whole steps of the production process. Although Leferink has managed to get friends, partners, believers and funders to be part of his project, he is still on the look out for innovative and disruptive visionaries with sustainability at the core of their ideas. As we parted ways, I shook the hand of fashion’s very own Renaissance man. I was glad that we both found the time to share thoughts and ideas. I now look forward to seeing Mister Peter Leferink potentially change the face of Fashion Week in the Netherlands and beyond.