Giving students appropriate experience of fashion’s actual production context is something that preoccupies many educational establishments. The Amsterdam Fashion Institute is hardly alone in trying to find a valuable means of extending their designs students’ industrial experience. However, what is clear from the presentation of their Individuals collection at Amsterdam International Fashion Week is that whatever they are getting up to behind the quiet walls of the institute, it’s most certainly working in design terms. The Individuals SS12 collection was without a doubt one of the strongest collections sent down the catwalk; cohesive, elegant and immensely wearable. In fact, it’s not hyperbole to say that everything from its presentation to the overall structure of the collection made it the one of the strongest and most professional collections shown.
Entitled ‘Nature’s Child – Consummatum Est’, this was a collection that was right on the money for predictions that SS12 will see abundant flower power hippie chic styles return. However, though the silhouettes in the Individuals SS12 collection are entirely congruent with the incoming flowerchild sensibility, these are no shapeless garments based on fright smock anti-fashion. On the contrary, elongated elegant form seems to be one of the guiding principles. Narrow fitted jackets worn with carefully draped tops and tunics over comfortably cut trousers with a distinctive narrow tapering cut, kicking out to a slight flair in some looks, heightened the tall svelte outline. The same principle operates in the maxi skirt combinations where the historical glance backwards to the late 60’s and early 70’s is never an excuse to abandon contemporary elegance.
Starting out in a wash of pure white, graded through soft fleshy beige and culminating in dramatic black, the SS12 collection is no exercise in psychedelic histrionics. Here and there the largely neutral – and hence figure-shaping- palette is thoughtfully shot through with emphatic bursts of colour. The bold Byzantine azure and beautiful prints based on peacock feathers gives the distinct impression that, in doing their research, the creators of Individuals were paying far more attention to classic Biba than archive rock festival photos. The tactile sustainable materials – soft leather, linen, tightly woven cotton and wool- are all perfectly in keeping with the earth-hugging hippie mindset. But, just as back in the day, these are garments for high-end hippies more at home trundling down the Kings Road or draping themselves around the decadent interior of a rediscovered Art Nouveau villa than living in a Volkswagen Combi van.
That this collection is so strong is perhaps not that surprising. Unlike various other educational structures that throw the spotlight on young – and perhaps under prepared- individual designers, (the somewhat ironically named) Individuals sees the final year students working collectively on a single seasonal womeswear collection overseen and shaped by the senior staff. In effect, it is actually much more in line with the reality of newly graduated designers joining an existing brand –something that almost all fashion academics and critics agree is probably the best thing that a young designer could do to gain experience and maturity- than the often fatal error of trying to produce a strong collection on one’s own. From the strength of the SS12 collection, it’s a model that other educational establishments should note.
Of course, quite aside from the talent of the students in each year, there are other factors that currently place Individuals in a strong position. Now in operation since 2007, the AmFI has gained very specific experience in what it takes make this model deliver a strong unified collection and, equally importantly, to develop relationships with relevant producers that manufacture the collections to a high standard. Perhaps equally sensibly, they have also focused on a small-scale, viable production meaning that at present it is only available through Individuals’ own concept store and a select number of concept stores in the Netherlands which is most definitely a pity for those who might want to get their hands on the very desirable SS12 collection. On the other hand, in an age in which globalization makes almost all forms of exclusivity obsolete, then for those who happen to be passing through the Netherlands, they could just leave with something extremely rare indeed.