Pascale Gatzen spent two weeks with Het Nieuwe Instituut’s hospitality team developing a new uniform.
Pascal Gatzen: ‘The design was developed entirely by the team themselves. My role was to bring together the team members’ different visions and opinions and to encourage everyone from the sidelines.’ The result is a transparent-looking uniform with wonderful details and a layered complexity that will raise many questions for visitors.
(Re)construction: layered complexity in design
This layered complexity in the new garments is typical of Het Nieuwe Instituut, says Viola Lisapaly, the hospitality team leader: ‘We work for a critical institution, which poses numerous questions about contemporary design issues and also tries to answer them. Het Nieuwe Instituut attempts to elicit reactions from its visitors and the complexity of the new uniform is part of that. It is the details in the garments that will raise questions, I’m sure of that.’ According to Lisapaly, this complexity is also present in the building’s architecture. Het Nieuwe Instituut consists of seven layers, each with its own function. Architect Jo Coenen arranged the different components to create a natural unity. Although they differ in terms of open and closed volumes and each has its own character, they nonetheless form a harmonious composition of different materials.
The new uniform emerged partially from second-hand clothing that Gatzen asked the team members to buy. Hospitality team member Richard van Rooij told me that he had never been in a vintage store. ‘I like to look modern so I always buy new clothes. And vintage clothes are often just as expensive as new clothes, so why would I want to wear someone else’s old clothes?’ The aspect of the workshop that Van Rooij enjoyed best was the sessions behind the sewing machine. ‘You’re never too old to learn something new.’ His colleague, Boris van Hoof, is especially pleased with the patterns that were made available at The New Haberdashery, a fabric shop and sewing studio that is part of the Temporary Art Museum, where visitors can try their hand at making outfits using patterns by designers including Monique van Heist and Frans Molenaar and soon the patterns of the new uniform.
‘I’m planning to make the jacket in a variety of fabrics. I think the final design is so strong that I’m also going to wear it in my free time.’
During the presentation it was clear that Van Hoof was not alone in this respect: the hospitality team’s colleagues in other departments were just as enthusiastic.
Alongside the visible success of the garments themselves, during the presentation it became clear that the group process had been equally successful. Gatzen believes that the strength of the workshop is that it brings things back to the people themselves, in this case the hospitality team. A decision about what they should wear was not imposed from above. Instead, the people on the floor were responsible for the design of their own uniform: an outfit in which they can function at their best. ‘In this way you create belonging and agency, with a resulting sense of inclusivity.’ Gatzen says that within the team there was a strong sense of the physical experience of clothing. Over the years the hospitality team has worn different uniforms and they know what they do and absolutely don’t want.
Artist Tim Leyendekker and fashion designer Iñiy Sanchez were responsible for the design of the uniform a few years ago when Het Nieuwe Instituut was still the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Both are also members of the hospitality team. Leyendekker was pleasantly surprised at the democratic design process the team underwent together. It was, he says, an intimate process:
‘I found myself barelegged trying on my colleague’s favourite trousers and that felt very naked. It was extremely intimate and a little uncomfortable because the situation doesn’t feel right. It makes you very aware of your own body and the other person’s (clothing) identity. You learn things from others that you would never share in the workplace.’
For Leyendekker the experience of working on the new uniform was very different to the experience of the uniform he designed with Sanchez: ‘The difference is that everyone is now co-owner of the story. Everyone contributed to the design process. The result goes a step further than what Sanchez and I did a few years ago: now we have designed the new uniform together with the whole team.’ The new uniform will be delivered semi-complete, which means that everyone will have to finish off the garments themselves. This makes the experience of the garments much more personal and the team members are likely to handle them with greater care. They will darn holes and clean them in a way that will maximise their longevity. Leyendekker: ‘We’re already making jokes about the royalties. We are all extremely proud.’
‘A sense of belonging’
Gatzen had already organised a similar workshop at the Art Tower Mito, a contemporary arts centre in Japan. As part of an exhibition about fashion and as an expression of beauty and love, the guards made their own uniforms. There too, many of the team members had no experience of making clothes. ‘Eventually 32 of the guards made their own uniform. It was so moving. I hadn’t expected them to respond so enthusiastically.’ The workshop enabled them to develop their own language, a language that equipped them for the first time to communicate in a personal manner with visitors, which is very unusual in Japan. In Rotterdam too, the hospitality team got to know each other in a more intimate and personal way. After all, Van Rooij told me, you see your colleagues in a new light when they tell you they sit on the couch in jogging pants. According to Gatzen, in Rotterdam there was the advantage that there were designers in the team. In Japan the final designs were very organic because the guards would have to go back to their old uniforms again after three months. In Rotterdam, by contrast, the aim was to develop a new uniform that will be worn for a longer period. For this reason, the combination of experts in making clothes and experts in wearing clothes was so important. Gatzen believes the balance was perfect and extremely affectionate.
The team members rediscovered each other through the exploration of making things together and the revelation of taking things apart. Clothing is intimately tied up with who we are and how we present ourselves to the world. And also with how others see us. It is for this reason that Ansfried Snijders, operations manager, is also so proud of the result: ‘I was a bit worried at first. I knew the journey would be good, but I was a bit concerned about the destination: the final design. But both the journey and the destination bore fruit. Fantastic!’