Dutch couturier Jan Taminiau tells what it is to be a crystals-and-embroidery lover in the land of the “big minimalists”

Design is something that the Dutch are known to do well. That’s why, we are told, in a country the size of Haryana some 1,300 fashion companies exist. A school of design based on the principles of simplicity, minimalism and functionality that favours stripping away what’s not useful — an aesthetic, that way, similar to that of Scandinavian design companies, and even the Japanese and Belgians. Then there are those like Jan Taminiau and Iris van Herpen, who’re known for a more conceptual approach — designs that combine structure, sculpture and surface treatment — and don’t fit into the widely perceived mould of their minimalist compatriots. Jan Taminiau, a regular presence at the Haute Couture Week in Paris, was in New Delhi recently as part of an initiative by the Fashion Design Council of India and the Dutch government, ‘Dutch Fashion Here and Now India’, announced at the PCJ Delhi Couture Week 2012.

On how he sees his embellishment-led aesthetic in the context of the more functional design aesthetic of The Netherlands, Taminiau says, “We, in Holland, are huge in the conceptual part of thinking — how it works — so it mainly becomes a functional item. So, far from it being a pressure, we’re happy that we did it. I love the schooling system there because you’re really pushed to speak out and question. Why are you doing this? Why are you dressing like this? If you wanted to put a sleeve a different way around because it’s not functioning anymore, why and how?”

The designer, who launched his couture line in 2004 and followed this up with a demi couture line in 2009, says it is not always about making the most beautiful dresses. “It was also about what’s your vision of your dress and how you can take everything a step further.”

Dutch designers are “big minimalists,” he says, a philosophy that he doesn’t embrace wholly. “They don’t use Swarovski crystals, they don’t use embroidery. But I love all of those; I love the beading and the craftsmanship and all this little detailing, and that is also why I love India. When I started everybody said I was mad doing this, that this is not what you should do at Dutch design. When we started, I set up an atelier and I started teaching people to do craft again, and suddenly it became a new world and suddenly more designers are doing embroidery and weaving, which I think is really important to do. Also, it’s fun, and you can make beautiful dresses out of it,” Taminiau adds.

It is this dose of fun and a certain wackiness that has made him a favourite with Lady Gaga, who is known to have worn Jan Taminiau creations during several public appearances, photo shoots and, most notably, in the video of “You & I”.

A crowded attic at his grandmother’s place, filled with damaged antiques, was Taminiau’s introduction to things beautiful. “It was this magical room with old chandeliers that were half broken and I would play with the crystals,” he recalls. A career in antiques seemed a good idea, and he dabbled there for a year.

“And then I was like, ‘No, I am not going to do antiques,’ because somewhere I wanted to change something, and there’s not much you change in antiques because then they become worthless.” Fashion, here, fit the bill.

Designers that he holds in high regard include Dries van Noten of the legendary ‘Antwerp Six’ and the late Christian Dior. “I like how Dior started and built things, how he conquered the world in a period when you were not supposed to do so much fabric. Dries van Noten is very interesting because it’s still his own company, he doesn’t advertise, he does the whole structural thing differently,” he muses. The community of couturiers in Paris is one reputed for being guarded, with even the term ‘haute couture’ being a protected one. Wasn’t it difficult getting a foot in the door?

“Everywhere you start out it’s hard. You have to fight, you have to be strong, you have to be stubborn, you have to really believe in what you do, and you have to do the best you can. So that’s what we did, and thereon it somehow all fell together. We started showing in Paris, and people started coming by, and one thing led to another, and suddenly you come into a different world.”

‘Dutch Fashion Here & Now India’ is a three-year programme that results from a fashion mapping report compiled by Harmeet Bajaj. Aimed at facilitating collaborations and interactions between the fashion design communities of India, the first leg features a collaboration between Jan Taminiau and Suneet Varma, and also between Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna with DIED. The results of both the collaborations will be presented on day one of the Spring/ Summer 2013 edition of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) in New Delhi on October 6, 2012.

The programme will also see industry professionals from The Netherlands, like DJ collective Star Studded Studios, makeup artiste Ellis Faas and catwalk photographer Peter Stigter working on the ramp show.

The other element will be the ‘Amsterdam Indigo Academy’, to be hosted by WIFW, which will be a networking platform for denim industry professionals from The Netherlands and India.