ATELIER HÅRLEM: Couture side of latex
April 13 2017
Not a big fan of latex clothing? After reading this interview with James Greenway, the founder of ATELIER HÅRLEM, you'll fall in love with its couture side.
What is the story behind ATELIER HÅRLEM?
I was lucky enough to be offered an interview for internship with Iris van Herpen in Amsterdam half way through my graduate year at university. I had absolutely no money but I took the risk, and got on the plane, not knowing whether I’d be coming back a few days later or a few months later.
That ticket was worth every penny because I was lucky enough to be successful and during that period, I was exposed to a completely unknown methodology of designing and how to emit emotion behind a collection. Amsterdam was kind of where the pieces of the proverbial puzzle all came together, it played a huge part in the birth of the ATELIER HÅRLEM.
Months later, I came back and completed my graduate collection. But it was like a veil had been lifted, I saw with new eyes. The design process was so fluid, almost intuitive - both in my heart as well as my head.
When I graduated I worked hard - I worked full time at a call center to build capital for the business during the day, and during all hours of the night I built the foundations of ATELIER HÅRLEM.
How would you describe style of your brand? How did latex become the centre of your philosophy?
The essence of HÅRLEM is expressing the character and emotions of a woman and to extend the shape of the feminine body in detail. Using old and forgotten techniques, with innovation and materials inspired by the world to come. We predominately work with latex which is a very “new world” material.
What do you consider you biggest strenght?
We strive to not just have consumer base but an intimate relationship with our consumers, we want them to know that we love and care for each and every one of them. Its a very personalised process and it has strengthened our brand.
We’re not just selling clothes to random people over the internet. We’re taking the time to understand them, their morals and ideals. Something they may or may not receive in their interpersonal relationships.
What would you say is your biggest success so far?
We were contacted by Lady Gaga’s stylist last week which I’ve had several minor (major) panic attacks over. I mean she is basically royalty, right?
When do you look for inspiration?
Brand identity and inspiration is a very personal thing. It comes from within you, a place in your soul you might not know exists.
For us, the most of our inspiration for developing a collection is the research. It is the thing I get most excited about – finding new techniques and materials.
It’s really a learning process of trying, experimenting and making mistakes. I think it’s the most important part of the work and the collection. It’s difficult. It means a lot of failure.
You sometimes make mistakes that are actually a starting point for something.
You have to come to a stage where you have a control over the material and the material is not controlling you – and you don’t always reach that stage.
Maybe half of all experiments you do, end in the rubbish bin. I do think the process becomes shorter; you realise sooner when things don't work.
What do you like the most about working with latex?
Working with latex is like talking in a secret language. Every garment is made entirely by hand; from the draping of the pattern, cutting the fabric, sealing the seams. There is no machine work involved. It’s a very old world way of working with a very new world material.
There is definitely a stigma attached to latex – which as part of our brand identity; we embrace and acknowledge, but also steer away from. Our aim is to make the material more accessible for women who want to be in control of their sexuality.
It is considered a fetish material but if you look back at fetish items throughout history - high heels, for example, were once considered a fetish item.
Moving forward in time to 2017, if a woman is walking down the streets in high heels, you wouldn’t assume that said woman is on the hunt for a man's measure. High heels are a very normalized fashion accessory now. We’re normalising the fetish material, through cut, silhouette and also extensive research on our consumer market.
A woman (or a man) should be able to wear this material on their person and feel as alluring or as muted as they choose.
Which design is your favourite?
The Kimono, it was our first piece that we released under our prêt-à-porter line. The design was almost instinctual and unprecedented.
What are your plans for the future?
We’re in the process of signing contracts for overseas ventures and a few very exciting plans that we aren’t allowed to talk about yet!
Where can we purchase your designs?