Sebastiaan Pieter: Subtle Subversion
Although the current menswear industry is more progressive and original than ever before, there’s still a distinct lack of sex on the LC:M runways.
Sebastiaan Pieter is a Dutch designer looking to remedy this. Through his label PIETER, he aims to create classic pieces rooted in wearability. But it’s the label’s subtle references to gay subculture that sets his designs apart. His last collection incorporated a variety of silhouettes which ranged from one piece inspired by a bulletproof vest to an oversized flame- red shirt adorned with bondage strap details. As the straps would suggest, the designer’s target client is “a man that is sexually aware of his body; he is very confident, but he also refers back to the structure of traditional menswear.”
With hints of subversion and leftfield references buried within Pieter’s collections, there’s also a continued emphasis on structure and wearability, which stems from his tailoring background. This focus on wearability has resulted in consistently strong collections, NEWGEN sponsorship as well as a selection of big-name clients such as Harvey Nichols buying into his commercial vision. “In any collection you need pieces which stand out on the runway,” Pieter tells me, “but you also need those clothes that you can wear every day. If not, you end up with a wardrobe full of really crazy pieces that you can never really wear more than once.”
Despite originally pursuing experience in the magazine industry, Pieter settled on fashion design after an internship at Jil Sander. It was here that he worked personally with designer Raf Simons, an experience he credits with teaching him the demands of running a successful fashion label. For Pieter, seeing Simons’ fabled working process first-hand illuminated the curatorial elements of a role as Creative Director. “It was amazing because Raf was really there. I could see him styling, making decisions on looks and establishing what the message was that he wanted to put across.”
At the helm of his own label, Pieter retains a similar level of creative control, encompassing everything from model casting to runway preparation. Despite fashion shows often being written off as glorified trade shows, Pieter remains convinced that it’s one of the strongest tools in a designer’s creative arsenal. “It’s the one moment that all attention is on your brand, so it’s important to share everything you can.”
Pieter’s enthusiasm for the runway is refreshing; in fact, many industry insiders are beginning to question whether the catwalk is still necessary in a world of fashion film and static presentations. There’s also the continued debate surrounding a see-now buy-now approach, which has already been adopted by a slew of industry behemoths looking to satisfy the instant cravings of impatient consumers. The result is an unprecedented demand on young designers who are now expected to offer up collections just days after their runway debut – a demand which Pieter says is impossible to meet. “Right now I don’t see there being a‘right’ way to do business,” he says. “Obviously see-now buy-now is tough for young designers – you can’t stock up on something you haven’t shown yet because you don’t know people are going to respond to it”. Pieter also argues that buyers could be deterred from investing in young talents. “For an uneducated consumer, it just makes them more frustrated about waiting six months when they know they can now get it from other brands immediately.”
Nonetheless, Pieter is optimistic that buyers will see the appeal of buying unique pieces from young designers. His own designs, for example, are aesthetically pleasing and commercially viable yet draw from a pool of leftfield references. Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe – the artist infamous for his sexually explicit, black-and-white photographs documenting New York’s BDSM scene in the 70s – was a key inspiration for his last collection. More specifically, it was one image of a chained-up, leather clad gay couple that sparked a wave of creativity. References to this particular photograph appeared in the form of small, multifunctional straps and rings attached to clothing which, Pieter says, could be worn as anything from a bracelet to a cock ring. Although these minute details are easy to miss, the designer remains adamant that their buried nature makes their inclusion more interesting. “We mentioned Mapplethorpe without giving the image, but a lot of people that were interested in my work already knew that photograph. They appreciated the reference, but even those that didn’t know it still appreciated it on an aesthetic level”.
“My target client is a man who is sexually aware of his body, but he also refers back to the structure of traditional menswear”
In fact, the most subversive element of Pieter’s work is that references to gay culture and subtle femininity are woven quietly into collections. Fashion has already turned ‘androgyny’ into a buzzword, and recent runways have included men of all shapes and sizes: perhaps the most interesting way to work femininity into menswear is to do so without trying to make a statement.
There’s something strangely intriguing about the details hidden in these clothing; their subtlety means that someone could stumble upon Pieter’s latest collection in Harvey Nichols and unknowingly purchase a sartorial ode to gay bondage photography. Incorporating controversial references into everyday pieces, it’s this kind of attitude that could actually drive menswear into a truly progressive era.
PIETER SS17 shows as part of NEWGEN MEN at London Collections: Men, 10 – 13 June