If Elzinga were a sound, it’d be the hopeful noise of girls in dazzling dresses, vigorous makeup and blown-up bow ties causing a punk riot. Established in 2019 by designers Lieselot Elzinga and Miro Hämäläinen – graduates of Amsterdam’s Gerrit Rietveld Academie and, respectively, former interns at Charles Jeffrey and AF Vandevorst –, this new brand is injecting fashion with a much-needed those of fun. And though they might not want to take themselves (and fashion) too seriously, Elzinga is set to be a serious sensation.
First of all, tell us how the two of you became one.
Miro: At school! We met when Lieselot came to the fashion department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and, quite soon, became friends. We never really worked together on a project there but we were helping each other out. We understood each other’s language.
Lieselot: Miro graduated first, so when I graduated one year later and was approached by Parrot Agency to create a marketable collection, I immediately asked Miro to do this together. The starting point or backstory was my graduation collection, and then we worked from there.
From your graduation to running a brand and having your clothes sold by Matchesfashion, can you describe your development? What are the ups and downs of starting a label?
Miro: It was a lot of trial and error, the process took us about nine months to realize. There are so many things we never learned in school. What’s different now? We have to think ahead, for instance, about the materials we can use and actually buy in bulk when things get sold. We need to be an economically viable brand, but you can’t put random crap on the market. Finding that balance is very important.
Lieselot: What I miss about my time in fashion school is that it wasn’t necessarily about wearability. It was more about, how do I create and realize something that’s on my mind? I’ve started missing this, especially since the start of the pandemic. At first I was enjoying making clothes for an actual customer that gets attached to the product in their own way. But lately, I’ve started realizing that creating an image or message rather than a product is also very impactful. People can recreate that, and it doesn’t even have to be with Elzinga. I do miss that; we have to think a lot about the product now.
Your new collection, which we shot for METAL, is called Infant Days. Why?
Lieselot: (Laughs) Miro actually didn’t know about this title until I messaged it – while pretty drunk! – to our PR agency. The next day, I woke up and regretted messaging, but you know what…
Here it is, coming back to you!
Lieselot: When I came up with that title, I was listening to some Lou Reed, and he was singing about stages, people, concerts, amplifiers… Suddenly, I felt so nostalgic about when that was still possible. And I thought about wanting to go back to a certain time. I liked the word ‘infant’ because of its innocence, the feeling that everything is possible. The older you get, the more you can feel limited and the more you lose certain freedoms. Children don’t seem to realize that yet, which is something I envied.
As adults, do you think it is possible to go back to seeing the world through a child’s eyes?
Miro: Well, obviously I’m not 70 or 80 yet, but I feel like eventually those boundaries do disappear again. Older people seem to get this ‘fuck you’ attitude, though maybe at that point it is more conscious – it’s not like actually becoming a baby again and not knowing that limitations or expectations exist.
Lieselot: You can purposely try. When you’re a child you’re always learning, and in a similar way, you can keep trying to always learn new things. And maybe when you have children yourself, in some way you can go back and relive that phase.
Would you say fashion is too serious or tends to take itself too seriously?
Lieselot: Yes! I felt this especially when I was graduating, but still… We are a part of fashion now, so it’s a different story. When you’re a serious brand, you [are expected to] do a fashion show. I love seeing that, yet it makes me feel like I can’t be a part of it. Fashion people, to me, have always seemed a little too cool and intimidating. That’s why for my graduation collection I wanted to do something on stage, which is actually kind of ridiculous too. So that people who are a little bit ridiculous inside would feel attracted to it.
Miro: Fashion is also a reflection of society and whatever is happening around us. In a way, it’s also a prediction of the future. Maybe fashion has been so serious because people are so conservative in general? And they’re only getting more conservative. It’s nice to put something different out there; an image of what is also possible. There’s fun to be had with clothes and dressing up.
Lieselot: What I find very important is the DIY spirit: the capability for people to imagine what they might and can look like (even without spending any money). Knowing how to express yourself through clothes gives you a lot of freedom.
It seems like nobody can write about your work without writing about music.
Lieselot: (Laughs) Well, we both have a stage background. I’m a bass player and started my girl band, Fuzz, when I was 12, playing in it for about ten years. We were four girls on stage in a male-dominated world, which was interesting – especially when you’re young and you don’t see this sexism yet. Fashion was a huge part of how we presented a certain image but also provided security for ourselves. We dressed up highly feminine, really going to extremes. We felt we were nothing like those boys, and that made us untouchable. The high heels and all that makeup were an important part of that, it gave us so much power. When we started designing together, we asked ourselves how we could make clothes that are extremely feminine but also very empowering and sometimes almost masculine, especially in terms of proportion.
Your collections so far are quite traditionally feminine and marketed towards contemporary women. Can you envision Elzinga for boys or other genders, too?
Miro: Yes, we’ve both always wanted to make menswear too. It would be a natural expansion, but nobody is asking for it yet (laughs). The references in the collection are not too far off. I guess the clothes are quite ‘feminine’ but they are not exclusive to women! Boys could wear Elzinga.
Lieselot: We started working together on womenswear knowing that it was for womenswear retailers, so then you work around the female body. Proportion-wise, men and women are generally quite different. So, if you create fitted clothing, it’s hard to do both at once. If we were to do a dress for the average men’s figure, we’d have to make that dress and pattern again for it to fit.
Miro: It comes down to the standardization of things.
Lieselot: Which is not always realistic either.
Back to music! You launched your latest collection with a presentation and concert at Paradiso, the former church that is now Amsterdam’s pop temple.
Lieselot: We were very inspired by this photography book by Max Natkiel, who photographed during and after Paradiso concerts in the beginning of the ‘80s. Within those walls, people were so expressive with their outfits, and the venue provided that opportunity and safety. We thought about how important self-expression is to so many people, and that’s something we cannot really do right now (except for with a small group of friends). It was also a form of protest.
We wanted to do our show at Paradiso because it seemed logical, but then we got confronted with coronavirus. At first we wanted to do a photo exhibition with street photographer Maarten van der Kamp, but due to Covid-19 we couldn’t have so many people on set.
In the end, we shot one model on the streets of Amsterdam and exhibited those photos. And since we had Paradiso to ourselves, we decided to also do a presentation with a concert by The Klittens, an all-women punk band. We went from not doing a fashion show to doing a fashion show – all within the possibilities of the pandemic. We let go of this idea of a closed-off concept, instead doing a lighter presentation to really inspire people.
You share a building with the editors of Fantastic Man, among others. How do you feel about being based in Amsterdam?
Miro: I think Amsterdam is quite a welcoming place for a lot of creative people, things are accessible here. At the same time, the pool of people can feel small, and people don’t mingle as much as they could…
Lieselot: And should!
Miro: There is a lot going on, though. The challenge is to make connections with creative people you don’t know. Still, I can’t imagine us doing this anywhere else.
Lieselot: I’ve lived in London and have considered moving there for a little bit. But starting a brand is already such a huge step; it seems impossible to do that somewhere else. We’ve both studied here and the people around us make up a solid base. Especially when you do something like fashion, that network is essential.
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Dress ELZINGA, tights ORBOLU.
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Dress ELZINGA, shoes MOSCHINO, tights ORBOLU.
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Dress ELZINGA, headscarf and jewellery model’s own.
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Top and skirt ELZINGA, boots CHRISTIAN WIJNANTS, sunglasses MONCLER.
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Dress ELZINGA, headscarf and jewellery model’s own.
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Mahala wears jacket ELZINGA, trousers DRIES VAN NOTEN, headscarf, shoes and jewellery model’s own; Mai-Lin wears dress ELZINGA, shoes MOSCHINO, tights ORBOLU.
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Top ELZINGA, sunglasses MONCLER.
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