They Said I Can Be Anything

Design sometimes has the most surprising sources of inspiration. This article follows the personal journey of Christiaan de Vries’ graduation project from pink to war, and from war to self-expression. 

Most of us have been raised surrounded by stereotypes, these being subliminally drilled into our minds since we could see or speak. In today’s postmodern world one would assume that it’s about time to let go. In an attempt to change how we propagate stereotypes, Christiaan was first inspired by Sapeurs. These dandy-like men from the Congo are proud representatives of the colour pink. This made him dig deeper into a culture where color appropriation seemed to have taken a different turn. Context emerged as a critical aspect of the use of colour, since seeing a man dressed in fluorescent magenta in Amsterdam might certainly not arouse the same feeling as it does elsewhere.

“The boy who likes pink gets bullied. This is how heteronormative our society (still) is. When really, you can be anything. Yet, you continue to try to meet expectations of others. Live up to gender-roles and follow social rules. Where this leaves us: sure, you can be anything, as long as you fit in.”

Sapeurs - Congo

The dandy-like Sapeurs don pink in the Congo.

Soon after this discovery, Christiaan stumbled across the photo series of conceptual photographer Richard Mosse. His images capture the beauty and tragedy of war and destruction. It is certain that “war” would have never been the first association to a color “so feminine” as pink. Yet the artist still found a way to make a connection between colour and armed conflict.

Richard Mosse - pink and war

Images by Richard Mosse ‘The Enclave’ (2012).

Diving into war-related inspiration, Christiaan was fascinated by the concept of dazzle camouflage, a technique where ships are painted in dazzling patterns in order to confuse their enemies. The optical illusion these prints provided formed the basis for Christiaan’s graduation collection. Imagine a traditional menswear collection, deformed and totally deconstructed by the attributes of Dazzle Camouflage.

An excerpt from Christiaan's process book researching dazzle camouflage.

An excerpt from Christiaan’s process book researching dazzle camouflage.

Looking back, making a jump from pink to war ran the risk of losing enthusiasm. Even though fashion is often serious, it was not the right direction for Christiaan’s work.

“I remembered seeing an old building in London, which I used to cross on my way to my internship. It was always very boring, grey, and dull, but the last time I visited, all of a sudden it had been painted in all these bright colours and playful patterns. It suddenly stood out from all the other buildings.”

Recalling memories with a tint of nostalgia might not work for everyone, but it did for Christiaan. This event triggered him to investigate the artist and the story behind the newly painted building. The Memphis Movement turned out to be the last piece to complete the puzzle. What struck Christiaan the most was how the aesthetics of this postmodern movement blurred the identities of objects. Something functioned as a lamp, but simply looking at its shape and colours, it could have been any object.

Memphis Movement Christiaan de Vries

An excerpt from Christiaan’s process book research on the Memphis movement.

memphis movement - Christiaan de Vries

An excerpt from the process book: colour studies and Memphis movement inspiration.

Everything comes back around  to the boy who was bullied for wearing pink. The collection drastically departs from the original perspective of this six-year-old boy who grew up believing that pink is for girls and blue for boys. Christiaan de Vries was able to create a menswear collection which was more than just a group of garments – the designs embody the story from pink to war, and from being stigmatised to finding the ultimate form of self-expression.

Christiaan de Vries - virtual prototyping menswear collection

Virtual prototyping for the menswear collection.

Illustration - Christiaan de Vries

Christiaan’s illustration of the collection line-up.

Christiaan de Vries - installation Kromhouthal

Christiaan’s installation at the Kromhouthal in January. Photo by Team Peter Stigter.


Christiaan de Vries - They Said I Could Be Anything

Christiaan de Vries

Christiaan de Vries

Collection photographer Sam Bynens. Models: Max Croes & Dennis Bijleveld from FIC Models; MUAH: Caroline Karte.

Article by second-year International Fashion & Branding student Laura Sinnhuber. 

Curious to find out more about Christiaan’s collection? Visit the Transit exposition at the World Fashion Centre on July 1 2016.

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