creative chit-chat

Katrien Van Hecke

Fashion designer

Fashion is a tough business according to Belgian fashion designer Katrien van Hecke who recently started her own label. She is very down to earth when it comes to her own enterprise. No glamour in her atelier in Antwerp located in a former police station. “My atelier is perfect for what I do. Rent is cheap, there’s lots of daylight and I’ve got plenty of space to experiment. In the winter we have to seal off the windows and the use of electricity is limited. Come to think of it, in London I did an internship with Hussein Chalayan and the circumstances where quite similar. Fashion is a tough business and there are too many people who start in fashion with the wrong perception."


Did you know what you where getting into when you launched your own label? 

Yes, I did. My mother worked in a sewing atelier for a brief moment and she made it very clear that fashion is a tough business. Fashion is not art, it is an applied art. Previous to my internship in London I was a pattern maker and assistant of Christian Wijnants, I did an internship at Bernard Willhelm and worked in a knitting atelier for a while. These experiences thought me that as a fashion designer I don’t want to be dependent of others. So I decided to go back to study in Ghent.


You chose Ghent, despite the excellent reputation of the Antwerp Fashion Academy.

You could say that the fashion department in Ghent is less famous, it’s less international and the groups are smaller. But I saw this as an advantage. This way I enjoyed a bigger freedom to develop my own skills. The training in Antwerp is excellent. The teachers push you into a certain direction. But in Ghent I was able to push myself forward and develop my own technique and identity.


What makes your style so unique? 

When I visited textile companies I was so shocked by the impersonal approach. I wanted to look for an alternative, more human way of working. When I was a student I dyed my own fabric. I did it, because I didn’t have any money and because I was never satisfied with the textiles and prints I found in stores. Since color is so important to me, I bought cheap white silk and started experimenting with pigments at home. Research took me to the 16th century, when the Dutch East India Company introduced new spices to Europe. In that time fabrics were colored with herbs and pigments. I said to myself: I can do that too! So I started experimenting with everything I could find and each season I look for new ways to treat textile. 1.jpg?1352637856


How do you experiment with textile? How does that work? 

I start with making compositions on paper that aren’t necessarily beautifuI. Because beauty is subjective. The process of dyeing textile is like cooking. Whith my recipe book I hit the market to buy ingredients like elderberries, eucalyptus, chilli, mint, curcuma, cochinelle and chamomile. Back at home I wheigh them, and put everything in big cooking pots and let it boil for a while. Next I fixate the fabric, seal the pots, make sure they are airtight and let the mix boil au bain marie in a bigger pot. After a while I take it out, let it rest for a night and make sure the air affects the fabric. After this process it’s ready for the next step. Sometimes I scatter sandalwood on my dresses with a pepper shaker. Other times I apply inks with plant sprayers or paint guns. My patterns are really imprinted within the fabric and none are alike.


Your prints look very spectacular. Isn’t your technique very labour-intensive? 

it’s quite ok. It’s like cooking soup in big pots. (Laughs.) Some of my designs are woven in Tilburg with special yarn dyed in candy jars. When you step closer, you can still smell the mix of herbs I used. People love the fact that I dye everything by hand and that I make my own tools. I spend a lot of time on research and the creative process, but I also do the production and management of the label. My mother helps me out a lot, especially when it comes to the supervision of the interns. But the label Katrien Van Hecke is a one-man business. And most creations are made here in Belgium. To lower the costs and to guarantee quality, I make the patterns myself and all the silk is cut here in the atelier. Different parts are collected in goodie bags and sent to the manufacturer, who just has to put them back together. This way patterns don’t have to be adjusted and my production is always going up. 1.jpg?1352637819


And to think that your adventure began in Paris with only 6 dresses on display.

Indeed. First time I showed 6 dresses. Now my collection has been expanded and everything got sold immediately. As a young and upcoming designer it’s important to invest in yourself and to really show what you believe in. Your style has to stand out, otherwise you won’t draw anyone’s attention. My dresses did that, maybe because of the quantity. (Laughs.) The first years as a fashion designer are really hard. But the more you learn from your own label and the more you learn from your own mistakes, the better you get in training or trust others to work for you. Fashion is about evolution and not about stagnation. My designs are being sold in high class boutiques, from Brussels to New York and the fact that my first clients keep on coming back, gives me lots of confidence. All things considered,  I’m doing rather well. 1.jpg?1352637839


Your work is sometimes labeled as ‘sustainable fashion’. Is this a term you feel comfortable with?

I don’t really like to think in stereotypes, but I do understand why they put me in the sustainable field. I don’t work with chemicals, I work with natural fabric and dye it with herbs. Furthermore I pay a lot of attention to the products origin. Has it been manufactured in an honest way? What I do is couture, which means all pieces are unique. But it is not considered as couture, because of the techniques I use. People should be more aware of the clothes they wear. Where do they come from? Who made them? I consider the personal aspect to be very important. Do I make sustainable fashion? Yes I do, but others also describe my works as artisanal and crafty. It doesn’t really matter what people say, as long as you follow your own path.


Katrien Van Hecke

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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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