As the industry embarks on a path towards a fully digital future, where we trade in cryptocurrency and NFTs and live out an alternate reality through our avatars in the metaverse, the fashion show has reached a crossroads. With the menswear and couture shows in June and July fast approaching, 12 months on from the first fully digital fashion week in London brands must choose whether they'll move with or against the oncoming virtual sphere. Dutch designer Duran Lantink has long been fascinated by the capabilities of future facing technologies such as artificial intelligence, so it's little surprise that replacing a front row of editors, celebrities and influencers with drones was on his agenda. Broadcasting his first digital fashion show from a 17th century palace in the Netherlands this week, with fake guests in the form of bots including Donatella Versace, Oprah and @badgalriri, the Springsummer Autumnwinter 21 collection is the best we've seen from Lantink yet.
Previously taking over the SHOWstudio Tumblr and creating a fashion film with Nick Knight to capture his cut-and-paste aesthetic, we've had our eye on Lantink since the beginning. From the years spent studying at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and the Sandberg Institute, Lantink has resisted fashion's obsession with newness and inherent attitude of more, more, more - long before sustainability became a buzz word. Working with personal clients, brands and stores, also conceiving capsules with the likes of Browns and Ellery, Lantink's determined approach calls for a new fashion system - one that is aligned with rethinking the travel-based circuit of traditional fashion weeks, which come with a hefty carbon footprint. Those lucky enough to own a Durank Lantink creation of their own are able to bring their one-of-a-kind pieces back to the designer to have them transformed on an unlimited basis. The modern consumer is easily bored, but Lantink's strategy allows for them to refresh their wardrobe whilst maintaining a meaningful connection with their clothes. Selected items from the 31 looks shown as part of the new Springsummer Autumnwinter 21 collection will be available directly from Lantink's website for the first time, via an auction. Once purchased, a look will be marked as 'owned', giving the buyer the accreditation to give it a revamp whenever they so wish. 'It's basically trying to keep the first garment alive, but then constantly transforming it', Lantink explains over a Zoom call. His customers will also have a profile on his site, where they'll be able to track the history of their item's metamorphosis.
Over the past year, whilst many creatives have had to get nifty and make new from what they already have, Lantink is as thrifty as they come. He has made a name for himself challenging commercialism with his unique approach to upcycling. Cutting up then splicing back together some of the biggest luxury names and their logos, the 21st century's ultimate status symbol, Lantink isn't afraid to challenge the status quo. (When he was shortlisted for the LVMH prize in 2019, he took with him a shopping bag created out of rival mega brands Louis Vuitton and Gucci, later presenting it to the initial horror of LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault.) Last year Lantink turned Robin Hood to launch the project 'Stolen by Duran' targeting the mistreatment of garment workers in fast fashion. Taking from high street stores H&M and Zara, Lantink created new pieces from which 50% of proceeds went back to the communities making up the supply chain. In March 2020, as fashion weeks were halted and seasons thrown to the wind, many fashion brands were burdened with unsold stock. Conversely, Lantink's designs are predicated on transforming deadstock from multi-brand stores and personal clients' tired wardrobes. But despite his waste-saving approach to fashion, even Lantink found he had excess fabric lying around, which forms the basis for his latest collection.
Working out of his studio in Amsterdam with his small team, Lantink's deconstructionist attitude to fashion took an exciting new turn during lockdown. Freed from the confines of designing with a personal client or store in mind - this was about Lantink as a designer first and foremost. Continuing to challenge the commercialism and rampant consumerism in fashion, Lantink wanted to explore how sexuality is marketed.
'I got kind of fed up with the idea that sex sells. You really think about this American message, where the [parts of the body] that involve sex, are actually being hidden away, like nipples. I was really thinking about how to expose these kinds of things', he tells me.
Tied into Lantink's inherent love of building new garments from the pre-existing, the designer moved away from his usual approach of splicing designer finds up and collaging them together, and focused on re-contextualising the clothing patterns. How can the armhole opening be reconfigured as a neckline, or neatly cup a breast? This subtly continues the playful, DIY 'if you know, you know' element to Lantink's work, whilst bringing a freshly considered backbone to the first fully fledged collection he has presented in some time.
'The main thing that we were doing with the clothes was trying to dis-identify clothing pieces. Now it was really about getting a dress, dismantling it, laying it out in a way that it wouldn't be recognisable again, placing it in a different way in order to create a new thing...I've never really thought about how a pattern is flat, because it never interested me. But now I dismantled those pieces, made them flat, and started collaging [garments] in a different way onto the body. That was a new experience.'
Over Zoom, he explains how in one look there's the makings of an old Ellery dress, and how the neckline of the dress goes under the model's nipple, to then combine with the arm. This creates a diagonal slit across the chest, a marking which forms a visual thread of continuity throughout the collection. Elsewhere, dresses are combined with 70s army uniforms, including a military jumper from 1972 from France which is styled with a diamante Duran Lantink branded thong. The opening denim looks feature the iconic Louis Vuitton brown monogram, giving this century's pop culture generation their injection of logomania - something Lantink always treats with apt levels of humour. LV cut-offs appear in sections of a pair of trousers, a tailored military-style jacket, a chic mini dress and what appear to be spongey bra pads fashioned into a top. Lantink's own brand logo appears for the first time as part of a collection, alongside sprinklings of Balenciaga. Unusually the closing four silver looks will not be produced on the brand's routine one-by-one basis, due to the team lucking out on finding a bundle of the material, but will be produced in a limited run of up to 50 pieces. That means more chance of bagging the space age-style trench coat.
First teased on Earth Day with a short clip featuring a fake David Attenborough voiceover even the most devoted Planet Earth watcher might fall for, the live-streamed segment of the show was available for a limited time, smartly maintaining the fervour that comes with a traditional live fashion show - aka you just had to be there. On the Duran Lantink website, virtual guests were left to wait for quite some time with a dripping shower in a pretty banal hotel bathroom. After impatiently checking Instagram, drones suddenly whizzed us into the hallways of the abandoned Soedtdijk Palace in Baarn. Models' faces transmutated using deepfake technology, (Lantink previously experimented with digital avatars when he took part in the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair in 2019, later also using holograms to create looks), as drones took up the positions of guests offering a 360-degree view for those watching from home in the second broadcast. With a nudge and wink of Lantink's typical humour, this was also perhaps a nod to experiencing life through our phones, whether that be watching a live gig through our camera screen as we hold our phone up to capture the moment forever, or watching a fashion show through an influencer's Instagram stories. Holding a digital show in the virtual sphere means a designer can have their dream front row; on the brand's Instagram, real life guests including William Cult and Liam Hess could be spotted by their social handles, joining the drone bots badgalriribot, iamcardibbot and celinedionbot. A final film released post-show sees the models catwalk through the empty palace rooms, and will live online forever.
The time has come to live out our online fantasies, and finding exclusively digital ways of dressing could well be Lantink's next step (the cutting and splicing fits right into the internet aesthetics of transmutation and conjure images of our glitching digital selves). The SSAW21 collection remains rooted in making use of the fabrics littering up our physical earth, whilst reconstructing the patterns of clothes gives Lantink's deconstructionist take on luxury throw-aways new legs. Although Lantink has never been interested in building his brand in commercial terms, his show this week showed promising new direction.