We too often forget that fashion goes beyond the garments, and more especially, that it can take as many forms as the imagination allows. That’s what Fashionclash Festival has proven over the course of three days, where designers, artists, filmmakers, and researchers got together to showcase a myriad of works around fashion, from films to sculptural pieces, to publications and performances. Oh, and this year was also pretty special for the Maastricht (The Netherlands) based festival: it celebrated its 15th edition!
On Friday evening, we delved into the joyous spirit of the festival by going into the Bureau Europa exhibition space as if we were models on a catwalk. We were received by a group of enthusiastic performers that invited everyone to stomp the runway. Of course, Shalom Harlow’s sassiness or Naomi Campbell’s determination are on another level, but we all tried to ooze our favourite models’ energy somehow. Once there, we were welcomed to the exhibition New Fashion Narratives, a massive show curated by five young talents who invited different artists to think of, you guessed it, the future of fashion.
There, we came across very interesting works. To start with, KKJ’s Dunusa: Life of a Garment, a project that “focuses on deconstructing and upcycling second-hand clothing sourced from Johannesburg second-hand street market Dunusa, where all the discarded garments have descended from European exports,” and which materialised in incredible pieces as well as a documentary video explaining how the project came to be. There were other artists working in a similar way, repurposing textiles and exploring different ways to extend the garments’ lives. 
Others focused on the body and how different corporalities have been constrained and misrepresented, like Chaewon Kong with her corsets, while others like Annalie van Doorn, Bayartaev, Fynnandmathis, Tevin Blancheville or Maria Gilmen spoke about identity through different practices – film, research, performance, and clothes. It was a bit overwhelming to have so many inputs, but after learning more about each project, it all came together. The ‘new fashion narratives’ the exhibition talked about encompass many issues that we’re familiar with: the growth of DIY culture against an aggressive and destructive consumerist system, the inclusion of different bodies to break free from standardisation and include as many different people as possible, or the importance of fashion in building our identity and the image we convey to others (in terms of culture, values, status, and more).
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Later that night, the Lumière Cinema hosted the first day of the Fashion Film program, which extended over Saturday and Sunday too. On the inaugural day, Cristian Velasco won the Kaltblut Magazine award for the film Retazos, and Little Shilpa and Ashim Ahluwalia won the Fashionclash Festival 2023 Fashion Film Award for HUM (we/us).
Velasco’s short film was more conceptual, taking place in the middle of nowhere, and is a reflection “on the past and the present, which explores repression and violence, folklore and identity, community and dance, and success and perseverance.” On the other hand, HUM had a stronger storytelling, similar to a fairy tale. The author told Vogue India a few months ago that the film “was in truth, about honouring the resilience of communities that have been marginalised and faced untold discrimination.” The twelve-minute piece is visually colourful and lively yet dark and twisted narratively.
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On Saturday, we focused more on the clothes themselves, starting with an exhibition at Merres, where we got to meet the designers and discuss their work. Tim van der Plas was there to present his collection Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades, which he said was “to visually explain others what depression might be like” after taking some time off to reflect on his life, traumas, and experiences. Besides the obvious use of black, the Dutch designer also took some codes from BDSM culture like masks, ropes, and leather garters to create six looks, each personifying a manifestation of that depression – mourning his inner child, escapism, shame, or communicational constraint.
On a lighter note, André Konings presented Liminal, a collection of pieces inspired by in-between spaces like airports, metro stations, but also dreams – “dreams can be seen as liminal spaces as they transport you from one day to another,” he said in a previous interview. In this dreamlike state, his poetic collection explores in-between spaces but also identities (starting with his own), and plays with concepts of elusiveness, fading, and familiarity. For example, a 2D suitcase printed on a glass – “it’s not functional at all,” he joked amusingly when talking about it –, a one-shoulder mesh top with a blurry print of a funfair, or a massive coat that seems made out of a bed’s comfortable duvet.
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Later in the night, the main event took place: the Clash House. As the festival organisation explains, it is “a showcase and development program for designers who focus on crossovers between fashion and other art disciplines – especially performing arts.” With such an original and entertaining proposal, we saw six different designers present their collections: Maash, Jean Flogie, Barbara Rozenberg, Ruben Jurriën, Esra Copur, and Maatrev. Hosted by Ariah Lester, the show was highly dynamic but also personal, giving space to each designer to explain a bit more about their pieces and collections.
Maash set this dynamic tone for the evening, starting with a single performer getting dressed and undressed in upcycled blazers, coats and trenches as fast as he could. Jean Flogie presented a fake Oscars ceremony with a critical aim towards the fashion industry, with awards going to Choreographer of Social Harmony or Cinematic Crusader for Inclusion. The collection featured beautiful prints “inspired by moths, the ugly and forgotten cousins of butterflies,” he explained. Polish designer Barbara Rozenberg continued with Empatia, where she materialised different emotions into full looks (like Disney’s Inside Out, but make it fashion), most of them resembling enigmatic sea creatures.
A daring proposal was that of Ruben Jurriën, who presented Super Femboyant, where he reappropriated vulnerability and softness as his strength, and even sang live during the presentation. Esra Copur was next. She actually works as a costume designer, and she said that most of the projects come to her once they’re finished and the clothes feel less important. So in her presentation, she took the opportunity to make them the main characters, and worked alongside the five performers to make the collection come to life. Finally, Maatrev collective examined originality and fakeness in a highly visual presentation, where two girls were live broadcasting the show from their point of view as they transformed the adjustable looks on the faceless models. To finish the three-day festival, and after three years without one due to Covid restrictions, there was an after party with performances by Jento Schaf, Mikael De Geyter, Renzo Pepers and Nata Mandaria.
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Once again, Fashionclash Festival proved that there are many ways to think and re-think fashion as a whole. Avoiding traditional ways of presentation and instead focusing on new formats, the three-day festival became a light to guide us into the future.
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