Interview: Thomas Voorn

Written By , on July 1, 2008

Considering the now ubiquitous trend of disposable fashion where all that seems to matter is a cute factor, Thomas Voorn’s intellectual take on clothing is not only refreshing, but enlightening. Voorn’s fascination with clothing calls to mind an anthropologist intrigued with skeletal remains, a sociologist swept up by human behavior, and an artist in love with his jolie laide muse. In other words, his passion for clothing involves more than love for color and fabric. Rather, it includes the love for humanity in all its absurdity as well.

Thomas Voorn

Sonia Pereira Murphy (SPM):I notice that you have an extensive educational background in fashion and fine art. When did you start showing an interest in fashion?

Thomas Voorn (TV): When I studied conceptual art (mixed media) at AKI Art & Design Academy in Holland in the mid-’90’s, I started to work with fabric; buying on purpose fabrics that I found really ugly and trying to make beautiful things out of these ugly fabrics. While I was working with these fabrics I discovered I started to love them, not only to work with them, but also their ugly prints and colors. Then I discovered how fascinating fashion can be. I find it interesting that fashion is an area where everyone has an opinion about; everyone wears clothes and at least has something to say about it. During my studies at the AKI in Holland I combined fashion and fine art in my work. For example, I embroidered clothes on projected half-naked people, dressing them in a ‘new way.’ In my final year, I decided to graduate at the fashion department and applied at Saint Martin’s in London to fully study Fashion Design. And to be honest when I was 11 years old I already started to make a wedding dress out of an old white bed sheet with a tire from a bike for volume at the hem, etc. Fitting this dress on a little friend of mine to make the shape right and I made a little bikini tops & bottoms out of a white cotton vest.

SPM:I love that you did that as a little kid! You state that you have a “fascination for the language and identity of clothes.” Can you elaborate on this?

TV: I find clothes and “dressing behavior” really interesting as part of (non-verbal) communication. We say so much with what we wear. I am very interested in the ‘identity’ of clothes and stereotypical associations that garments, colors and prints (but also cut and detailing) can evoke. A shirt, for example, gets such a different ‘identity’ if you only change the collar of it. I like to contradict these ‘associations at first glance.’

SPM:Your recent lines of menswear feature bright floral pastels… what’s your inspiration? You also call a line “Coming Home.” Is this a reference to your own personal background?

TV: In the fashion series Coming Home I am searching for a contemporary clash and match in which the pictures are ‘the work,’ not the clothes; they are just a tool. After having done sales and London off-schedule collection presentations during the OsvoMode period, I decided to sell my services rather then my products. The autonomous work like the ‘Coming Home Series’ I make is a showcase of my style and abilities for these design & styling services.

In 2006 we decided, after making 7 collections, to stop our high fashion label OsvoMode. It is difficult to make enough money as an independent young design label, even if you have stockists and a sales agent in Japan, as we did.When I retreated into my studio for one year in (January) 2007 to make new work and bread on what I would do next, I decided that my new brand should be a visualization of myself and started to take my own dressing behavior as starting point for new work. That also meant that I would do more for men’s fashion. I always wear quite colorful clothes myself, and have always had a fascination for prints and colors. So that is how my menswear series ‘coming-home’ started. And it did feel like coming home!
In the ongoing ‘coming home series’ I focus on my search for a contemporary clash and match in color and print on a ‘small scale’. I use the traditional ‘mug shot’ to let the color and print combination take over the picture rather than the garment being the most important in the image. Placing mainly traditional feminine floral prints, and mixing these with other colors and prints to create a new fashionable sense of masculinity. Exploring the boundaries of taste and beauty – masculinity and femininity – slick and home made imagery.

SPM:Many of the shirts also feature a 60’s vibe that borders on mod. Does music or fashion from the past influence your work?

TV:In my work I am always looking to make a fashion statement, but use an autonomous way of working and thinking about fashion, clothes and dressing-behavior to create imagery. My main influences are people on the streets that are not aware of what they are wearing and communicating with their clothes. Fascinating.And I have a fetish for colors and prints. I only have to go to a fabric store to get inspired.

SPM:How did you meet Jeanette and start OsvoMode?

TV:During our studies, fashion design womenswear, at Central Saint Martins in London, we did one collection together in our 2nd year. After our graduation we decided to start our own idealistic fashion label based on our vision of fashion: to challenge what contemporary beauty is in High Fashion and to make fashion more ethical by using organic fabrics for high fashion designs (this was in 2002, so before the whole organic fashion trend started!).

SPM:Osvomode’s mission states you prefer to make clothes you “have to get used to.”How much is challenging standards of beauty a part of your designing process?

TV:I’ve been pushing the boundaries of contemporary fashion aesthetics in my work for quite a few years. I enjoy trying to expand the idea of what contemporary fashion can be and exploring what could be entitled as ‘a new sense of beauty.’ While I was studying fashion ten years ago I worked with fabric combinations that were ‘unusual.’ I was looking for a friction between colors and prints to make one question what represents beauty or not. I explored how you can apply color and print in an outfit and how you can play with them proportion-wise to balance on the edge. In the collections of the high fashion label OsvoMode (2002/2003-2006), which I founded with Jeanette Osterried, we worked from the concept that our designs did not have to represent beauty at first glance. Designing garments that you might have to get used to in time. Exploring where beauty ends and ugliness begins and in that way extending the way one can perceive beauty in the fashion industry. In contrast to for example music where we are much more used to listening to an album a few times before actually appreciating it, we applied this thought on fashion collections.

SPM:While your own label showcases menswear that might be deemed feminine, OsvoMode carries some masculine-influenced women’s pieces. Do you enjoy toying with androgyny or gender in your work?

TV:Absolutely.

SPM:The OsvoMode wear is also markedly different from your men’s wear in regard to color. Were the new florals a reaction to OsvoMode’s solids and muted shades?

TV:During my studies I already worked a lot with colors and prints. With OsvoMode we were limited because there were not yet a lot of different fabrics / colors in organic quality. If you look at the OsvoMode S/S ‘04 collection, we still used quite some colorful/printed synthetics, but later on we wanted to go more organic with very little choice in colorful fabrics.

SPM:What would you say to a potential male client who’s attracted to one of your floral shirts but is afraid he can’t pull it off?

TV:Combined with simple grey or white jeans, a guy can pull it off anytime.
At the moment the clothes are not for sale. (Unless there is a HUGE order coming in!) But my styling & design services are for sale, just go to my website, www.thomasvoorn.com, and place a booking under ‘bookings and enquiries’. (Mr. Voorn supplies his services to companies only and not to private individuals.)

SPM:Osvomode also features avant-garde pieces with draping and raw edges. Do you see your own line moving in that direction? Where does Thomas Voorn seem to be heading in the future?

TV: Continue making my own work, exhibiting, publishing, and continuing my freelance projects in design, styling/art direction and consultancy for fashion companies, fashion magazines, advertising agencies, film and theatre. And when I feel it is right to do raw edges and drapes again …I definitely will.

For more on Thomas Voorn please visit: T H O M A S V O O R N . C O M