creative chit-chat

Jan-Jan & Piëtro

Multidisciplinary duo

Although the name Jan-Jan van Essche suggests its a one man operation, it's actually a creative duo. Jan-Jan and his partner Piëtro Celestina met during their studies at the Antwerp Fashion Academy and have been inseparable ever since. It was their love for aesthetics, Antwerp, fashion, art and design that brought them together and they effortlessly managed to translate this into their fashion brand and their concept store: Atelier Solar Shop. Work and personal life blend into each other and their laid back attitude is the key to their success. 



Jan-Jan says “The fashion label carries my name, but I’m solely responsible for the design. On everything else I collaborate with Piëtro. He gives me advice and photographs my collection. The garment he criticises the most, always turns out to be his favourite in the end. He’s not objective, but I need his opinion anyways. We complete each other.” The interview takes place in their loft apartment in the North of Antwerp, where we have cake to celebrate Jan-Jan's birthday! 




You finished your second collection on your birthday

 Jan-Jan (JJ)I always had the idea to finish my first collection on my 30th birthday. Today I turn 31 and I’ve completed my 2nd


You don’t get influenced by the fast tempo of the fashion world, since you release only one collection per year.

JJ: There are already more than enough clothes on the market. Look at my own wardrobe: there isn’t much difference between winter and summer. In the winter I wear more layers, and in summer I just take them off! The pieces I create transcend all seasons and can easily be combined with other basics from your closet, or pieces from my previous collection. You can create your outfits as you want and that’s the main idea behind this kind of collection.




Your clothing shows Malian, Ethiopian and Japanese influences. Who do you design for? Who wears your collection?

JJ: My clientele varies from French teachers to squatters who barely survive on their wages and will pay off for their clothes in installments. Although I design for men, there are also many female fans. A woman can easily wear my shirts with leggings underneath.

The collection is rather expensive and I think that's unfortunate, but that's the price you pay when clothes are manufactured here in Belgium. I also want to be able to pay the people who work for me. If you have a Jan-Jan Van Essche piece, you know for sure it is exclusive. The edition is limited and when I run out of pieces, there’s no more left. Everything has its price and value. But I'm illiterate when it comes to prices. Piëtro has worked in Marjan Eggers’ shop Louis and therefore has more commercial feeling than I do.




Atelier Solar Shop is a pop-up store, a restaurant, a teahouse, a studio ... it is unique in Flanders and has become a hotspot in Antwerp-North. How did the concept come about? 

P: The name Atelier Solar Shop refers to the buildings previous function. It used to be a shop for solar panels. We’ve just added the word ‘workshop’, because the space was designed as a studio for me, Jan-Jan and the jewelry designer Anouck Peeters.

JJ:  The year after graduating from the Antwerp Fashion Academy, I wrote a basic manifesto on the origin of the Atelier Solar Shop. I wanted to open up a shop with a studio space in the back. The basic idea is still there, but the space has now transformed into a store where you can occasionally come and eat, drink and discover new talent. We’ve always tried to optimally exploit the possibilities of this space. We don’t want to only sell stuff, we also want to offer an experience, and in this way we combine various art forms. The owner is a friend of ours and he didn’t want his space to be transformed into just another night shop or grocery store.

P: We had to check it out for ourselves and here we are!




You also sell vintage furniture. Is it a hobby that got out of hand?

P: It's an addiction that began with Atelier Solar Shop. We had no furniture to set up in the shop and we didn’t know anything about it, so we began our search for vintage pieces on the Internet. 

JJ: We rather sit on the floor than on an ugly chair and we would rather starve than serving dinner on ugly plates. Just kidding, we’re not so hardcore. (laughs)




P: Before we knew it, we had collected a nice selection of design objects. Twice a year the Design Center (across the street from Solar Shop) organizes a vintage market called ‘Dubieus Design’ and that was one of our first projects: to become a furniture store for 1 day with 3000 visitors passing by.

JJ: Then the ball started rolling. People who bought furniture put their name on the mailing list and so they came back to the next event to have a look at the shop. The Solar Shop is a platform, it brings people together and many collaborations started here. That was my purpose with the manifesto: to create crossovers. In Antwerp, creative people like to turn inward.

P: We’re were missing the creative vibe of Antwerp in the late 90s.




Atelier Solar Shop was originally designed as a studio space. Would you like to expand this element?

 JJ: It’s our dream to transform the shop into a crafts area. For instance, If we would open up a restaurant even the tablecloths should be handmade. Look at IJM Studio in Amsterdam. The atmosphere there is great! A large loft used as a playground where textiles, food & photography are pretexts for editorials and interior assignments. Or look at Oumou Sy, the Senegalese fashion designer, who brings together a group of people, each with their own specialty. By working together you can get the best out of eachother and that is something I really envy. 

P: Atelier Solar Shop is interconnected to the space in the Dambruggestraat. But sometimes we get interesting offers that allow us to export our creativity. In the winter of 2009-2010 we were asked by the artistic director and set designer Bob Verhelst to make lanterns for the Hermès boutiques in Belgium and the Netherlands. It was a real adventure, especially because Bob has no email. If you want to reach him, you must send an e-mail to a copy-shop somewhere in his neighborhood, where he goes 2 times per week to print out his e-mails. We were given a go for 60 lanterns only 11 days before the deadline! It was crazy! (laughs)




Atelier Solarshop is used as an atelier but your huge lof also provides interesting space possbilities, no?

JJ: The Solar Shop is often used for various projects, so it is useful – focus wise – to also have a separate space available. The loft is a great addition, because here we also have a photo studio in the back. But I like to keep the stitching work and prototypes exclusively to the shop. Atelier SolarShop fullfills a platform function, it's nice and we can do cool things, that we couldn’t do elsewhere. We will not move. We're not done with the Dambruggestraat yet, it is our second home! (laughs.)




Jan-Jan van Esche


Atelier Solarshop

Dambruggestraat 48, 2060 Antwerpen


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Coffeeklatch stands for ‘Slow journalism using a fast medium.’ Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen created the blog as a creative chitchat featuring creative entrepreneurs in their homes over coffee, including interesting people telling intriguing stories. It celebrates storytelling and creativity in all its forms, from fashion design to architecture. Read More


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