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Why Italians can (sometimes) be Dutch

Dutch design has never been the sole terrain of the Dutch, but with more and more graduates sticking around in Holland to pursue their careers, the term is more international than ever.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 18-05-2011

When we reported that Rolling Stone magazine included five Dutch designers in its list of the 20 designers likely to wield real influence over the next decade, we got it wrong.

We (I, to be honest) originally stated that just four Dutchies made the cut.  What followed was the sweetest reminder email from Andrea and Simone of Formafantasma that they do in fact qualify.

And they had a point.  Educated at the DAE and still Eindhoven based, the pair (who have Italian passports) can and should be called Dutch designers.

Back in 2006 Stefan Sagmeister said in Real Dutch Design that “Dutch design is design created in Holland.” A lot more chapters have since been written trying to define the Dutch design phenomenon, but none make as much sense as Sagmeister’s succinct truism.

“I do not think national borders make any sense,” says Simone Farresin who along with Andrea Trimarchi makes up Formafantasma. “That sort of classification can only be relevant when production is local and it isn’t anymore.  It also ends up being too much about national identity and tradition which only ends up being confusing.”

Farresin also points out that the big and bold aesthetic synonymous with Italian design is now more or less irrelevant.  “And the same will happen to Dutch design if too limited a framework is used to define it.  We are conceptual, but not in a typically Dutch 90s way.  We have our own approach.”

Formafantasma are designing in Holland, and are influenced by the national design culture or mentality.  “And some of our biggest influences are Dutch,” adds Farresin.  “Culturally, I’d say we are Dutch designers because of how we work, where we work, and that we came here by choice to be a part of what was happening in design.”

Hyun Yeu, (Ado Les Scents) a South Korean, Amsterdam-based fashion designer, agrees.  “I am a Dutch designer because of how I work,” he explains.  “I was educated here and I have a very conceptual process that could only have been honed in a Dutch design environment.”

Yeu graduated from the Rietveld Academy and has presented three times at Amsterdam International Fashion Week.  “It also comes down to influences,” he says.  “I am here, I am surrounded by all things Dutch so it is how my head works.”

And he knows the alternative.  Before landing in Holland, Yeu studied in both South Korea and Australia. “In most design schools the focus is only ever on the end goal.  You set a plan and then it is very much about achieving an end goal.  In Holland I learnt that ugly can be beautiful and that the most interesting things result from analyzing and researching mistakes.”

Paul Hughes of Lava, in Amsterdam is Irish and says the whole issue of Dutch design has become too much about the individual and not enough about the Dutch design environment, or “ecology” as he puts it.

“I do not like how Dutch design is promoted abroad,” Hughes says.  “The same names are always mentioned and it has become too much about their egos.  I think Dutch design has nothing to do with any individual and everything to do with the connections between the individuals.”

Hughes says he works in Holland, is surrounded by Dutch design and works for Dutch clients.  “That is what makes me Dutch,” he says going on to suggest that “scenius” rather than genius describes Dutch designers who make it big. 

“In a country like this the whole caliber of design thinking is just elevated,” he says.  “The work is good, but the clients are also far more clued in.  The client level in Ireland, for example, where there is no design culture is completely different.”

But not every designer educated and based here wants to be included.  Julien Carratero from France, for example, shuns the connection altogether.  “I am definitely not a Dutch designer,” he says.  “To me, Dutch design is very much about story telling and craft whereas I am really trying to connect my work to industry and mass production. To be honest I feel a bit deceived by Dutch design.  When I came here I thought it would be more intellectual and I have found that while it pretends to be quite thoughtful, it is often very shallow.  There are too many jokes, too many stories, and the work never properly relates to production.”

Images: small top page - Japanese designers Stamppot met Rodekol, main top Formafantasma by Delfino Legnani Sisto and small from top their latest project "Botanica" by Luisa Zanzani.  Hyun Yeu's Aldo Les Scents by Shamila Photography, a project by Lava celebrating the friendship between Holland and Japan, and Julien Carratero's latest work.

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