StyleForum Interviews Stephan Schneider: “I want to make friendly garments”
Words by Ben P.
Photos by Joachim Mueller-Ruchholtz
Photos by Joachim Mueller-Ruchholtz
I don’t need to say much to Stephan Schneider and his work. Several months ago when I asked who I should try to interview for StyleForum, his name was at the top of the list, and its obvious way. His a thoughtful designer, who has a clear vision of what he wants out of a collection, and his clothing is, if nothing else, supremely subtle. His work needs to be handled to be fully appreciated. Checkout the SF thread here. Read Part I here.
Ben: I know you also have taught fashion at the Berlin University of Fine Arts, do you still teach?
Stephan Schneider: I stopped it last year. When I graduated, I directly started my own brand, and I thought "oh I know so little" because I've never worked for anybody in my entire career, but the moment I started teaching I realized I knew so much, and that I could encourage the students, and I know a lot about textile production, and design, and creation. I got very enthusiastic about teaching and encouraging my students to go a step further. I did it for 6 years, but after 6 years I realized how much energy it took, and I felt that [designing] my only collection with my little team - we're only 8 people here - and delivering to over 60 stores worldwide, it was just getting too much. I got grumpy and I got tired and I didn't enjoy. I had to decide to either stop my collection or stop teaching, and actually the [design] team here in Antwerp told me how much they enjoy [working with me] and I decided to stop teaching. It was just too much.
B: What are some brands you look for, that you admire? Do you wear clothes other than your own line? What do you like?
SS: I have to admit, that with clothes, I'm still very proud that I enjoy my own clothes the most. I check, I look, and I go to stores. I'm a shopper. I was a fashion victim. I say this proudly. I spent all my money on fashion when I was a teenager, and still today I have a budget and want to look at stores. I'm so critical, [but] there is a beautiful Japanese shoe brand I like a lot. It's called Kids Love Gaite. They're very, very nice shoes that I enjoy a lot. For the rest, I still think my own stuff is the best.
B: Are there any designers that you admire? That you look up to?
SS: Of course. When you think of someone like Dries Van Noten, who is nearly as big as a Giorgio Armani, but is still working independently, doing no advertising, no cosmetics, few accessories. I look up to this. Without him, Antwerp wouldn't be what it is today. I admire [his contribution]. His garments themselves, I was never that into, although you could say they're similar [to what I do]. They're a bit too ethnic for me. I look up to people who work so independently.
B: What's your vision for your own label? What would you like to happen in the next five, ten years?
SS: It sounds strange, but I think the continuation [of what we have] would be best. We even refuse customers these days. I know it sounds a little bit arrogant, but we really have to be sure we can continue the way we work now, working with the makers, working with the amount of production [we have]. To continue, to be able to work with the group of customers we work with, and to work the size of team I [have]. I'm not a good team player... well, I'm a good team player, but I'm not the best boss. I don't like to be the boss. It's annoys me a lot to tell people off, and I don't want to work with more people than we work with right now. To be able to continue in the way we work right now is, for me, a big compliment. To grow is not something I look forward to. I don't want to work with more people, I don't want to have more customers, more shipments, more production. I think right now we're really at a nice size, and I'm enjoying what we're doing right now, and I hope this can continue for another 10 years.
B: Can you share any details of the F/W 14 collection?
SS: Of course. Every season I work around a certain theme. For [F/W 14] the theme is weeds. I'm into gardening these days. I have a little garden and I like to see the plants and cut the trees and feel the progression of the weeds growing among the flowers. Pulling them out and watching them grow back, suddenly I felt "oh my God what you pull out is so beautiful." I felt this in fashion too. Colors, designs and shapes that, in the beginning, you don't really appreciate, but later these become your favorite pieces. This is the same with weeds in the garden. We've printed weed shapes onto silks, wove them into jerseys. It's a botanica aesthetic, which is really nice to do. I really look forward to seeing the finished garments. I'm sending them these days to the makers, and waiting for them to come back around the beginning of next year.
B: I mentioned on Styleforum that I'd be talking with you today, and someone asked me to ask you about your sizing. Is there a reason you opt to have a number range (III, IV, V, VI, VII) instead of traditional European numerical sizing?
SS: I hate to have a strong distinction between menswear and womenswear, although sometimes when I look at customers [in my store] I say "this is the ladies section, this is the mens section," but I don’t enjoy making ladies and mens sizes separate. On the other hand, I wouldn't call my collection unisex, but I think if you like a tshirt, or a coat [from the other collection] why not mix it? I think it's very charming for a lady to wear a mens’ coat or a guy to wear a ladies' cardigan, tied and cropped. I didn't like the specific differences between sizes, which was one reason. The other reason was that, for me, sizing is a design language. Sometimes garments look big and they're supposed to look big, sometimes they're too tiny and they're supposed to be too tiny. I didn't want to have sizes where you could compare to other sizes. I wanted to keep it was abstract as possible. We start with a IV, we end with a VII [for mens]. Size III can be shared by men and ladies. It also forces people to try [pieces] on, which is, of course, commercially is not so easy. People say "I'm a 50, a 52, what is it in your collection?" but actually, season by season, you have to try it on. I want to make people them on and feel them, and not rely on a traditional sizing system.
B: Do you think that can be hard for people who buy clothes online? Would you prefer people buy in person?
SS: I think it's hard to buy them online. I'm very passionate that people [should try on in a store]. I think you have to feel the fabric. It's so hard to just look at a picture or an abstract sizes and buy it. On the other hand, I can understand it. It's not distributed in a wide way, and you can say the internet helps people. But it's not easy [to buy online] and for my collection I would say it's really hard to buy it just online. But congratulations to all of you who can.
B: Do you have any final thoughts?
SS: Bravo. It's so good to have enthusiastic, passionate people about fashion. People who are not busy with the big advertisers, but [rather] the garments. It really gives me energy. If we work together we can continue and we can enjoy this part of the fashion industry, and not only the luxury and investment groups, but instead the independent and creative business.