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Homage to the physical

May 26, 2020

It was at the start of the new millennium that Sjaak and I met each other for the first time. We were classmates and both trying to find our place in fashion as a designer. We were the very first class at the fashion department to get computer lessons as a permanent part of our education. Until that moment everything made at the fashion department was made by hand, but the fashion industry was changing fast and Adobe illustrator, photoshop and indesign made their entrance into the industry.

By the time we would be graduated it would almost be impossible to get a job without computer knowledge. As I am writing this it all feels unreal; as if I am writing about something that happened over a hundred years ago… Actually this is less than twenty years back in time.

I was about four to five years younger than the average of my class, working with computers was already a normal thing to me. In that time my father worked at the IT department of a multinational and my grandfather, a former chief engineer, had a great passion for technology. The feeling for technology was something I had grown up with. That certainly was not the case for everyone in our class; especially not to Sjaak. I do remember how surprised I was on his inability to work with computers. For a long time I have been wondering how he could ever survive in this world if he would not master modern techniques.

Even by the time we were graduated, and in the meantime started working together, his lack of interest for computers remained. At that moment I was making money as a fashion designer and got many commissions, actually because of my computer skills. But Sjaak was not to be convinced; no computers for him, not then and still not today…

Love for the physical

Sjaak is the living example of the importance of physical contact. He is absolutely intrinsically motivated and is always looking for the perfect material to transfer his ideas to the maximum possible. To find that perfect material or fabric he needs to touch it and get in physical contact. I have always been fascinated by Sjaak when we would go and buy fabrics. When selecting fabrics he uses all his senses. He first selects the fabric on color and texture, then gently slides the fabric through his hands, rubs it on his cheek and along his jaw. Then he smells the fabric and starts the process all over again until the moment he decides if he really feels the love for this particular fabric. I have wondered if he not actually wanted to taste the fabric too, but never did that because he might felt ashamed of doing so. Something I could imagine as our fabric suppliers rolled their eyes already by the time he would rub the fabric along his face and placed his nose in it; as if he was actually going to blow his nose. Physical contact with all materials has always been a great part of Sjaak’s designing process. He only starts when he can work with the fabric itself. He designs garments due to a combination of his own hands, the fabric and the sewing machine. Very occasionally, urged by me to do so, he draws his designs on paper. Very occasionally… but never without getting to feel the fabric first, again along his face, and smelling it. Even when he draws you will find a piece of fabric in his left hand, rubbed between his thumb and index finger, as if he is making  contact with an energetic world full of energy.

Technological innovations

In a world in which technological innovation became the magic word, a religion on its own, Sjaak has always been swimming against the current. We are both kind of nostalgic in our being and in our early years I therefore thought his obstinacy to technology was dedicated to his love for years past. I myself have more than once reproached myself for sticking to much in the past when I did not want to participate in new technology. By now I know it is not due to nostalgia but due to the need for the physical world. It is one of the reasons why we are so proponent of physical shops, physical magazines, physical books and physically working and being together. Physical contact makes sure all your senses are stimulated without interventions by cookies and algorithms. It makes sure you will, from time to time, be overwhelmed by accidental bliss.

We are now forced into a locked down society in which all physical has been turned into virtual. A society that is glued to their homes and in which only our computers and cell phones are connecting us to the outside world. The more I have to teach via MS Teams, the more meetings I have via ZOOM or when we have a team-meeting via Google Hangouts; the more I realize this is not the world I want to live for. To compensate the forced virtual world I go to our Hul le Kes garden every day and every day I bake a new bread or make some embroideries on Hul le Kes garments. It makes me realize how glad I am when I am in  physical contact with people. Far away from the virtual contact where so many emotions are not shown or felt properly. The current restrictions show how important physical contacts with people, animals, plants and therefor with all materials are for our satisfaction. This crisis confirms to me something I have been longing for, it shows we cannot live without physical contact. It shows technological innovations are not THE solution and only have meaning when part of the larger whole. It shows that artisanal work is no deterioration but a necessary to our society. It shows we do not have to live on the moon, as long as we take good care of all precious that surrounds us.

The new rebirth

I would like to compare the current crisis with the big crisis of the 14th century: the Black Death. The plague has been a reason for some big changes in history and the way of thinking in Europe. It made people questioning the rules put on them by the church during the Middle Ages. People started to look differently to nature and a big humanistic movement started to grow. Nature became an inspiration to people. The rediscovery of ancient times, in combination with their new knowledge, were the start of a new cultural revolution. The rebirth of society; the Renascence. I ask you to replace the plague by corona; the believes in the church to our believes in modern technology and virtual reality; the ancient time by the artisanale…

Let us doubt the current believes in technological innovation and the virtual world more often. Let us all rediscover crafts and all that is artisanale. Let nature become our main inspiration again and combine that renewed thinking with our modern knowledge. Would that not lead to a new rebirth? A better world? I am convinced it will!

Sebastiaan Kramer (34) is managing director at Hul le Kes. Together with Sjaak Hullekes he graduated from ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem. Ever since their graduation they work and live together. Although Sebastiaan started his career as a fashion designer nowadays he is working on managing the company. He studied Business Administration where he focused on non Western and alternative ways of management. Besides his job at Hul le Kes he also manages Studio RYN and is artistic director at Fashion + Design Festival Arnhem and Duurzame Mode 025 (Sustainable Fashion 025).


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