Masterclass for the Dutch fashion sector by Atelier Néerlandais: “Paris is still the place to be for designers”
Five years ago the Atelier Néerlandais opened its doors in Paris as successor of the Institut Néerlandais. At the time, the closing of the Institut Néerlandais caused a considerable commotion in the Dutch-French cultural and diplomatic world. Thus, although welcomed, the creation of the Atelier was set in turbulent times and opinions and expectations were divided. By now, however, the Atelier has grown into the platform par excellence for the Dutch creative and cultural sector in Paris. For the future, the Atelier Néerlandais has new ambitious plans.
Masterclasses in the Netherlands
One of the new initiatives is Atelier Néerlandais hors les murs. The Atelier wishes to be more active in the Netherlands by organizing masterclasses for the Dutch design and fashion sectors. Last April, the first masterclass was held in Amsterdam specifically for Dutch fashion brands that want to bring their practice to Paris. These masterclasses are meant to give more insight into what is actually important in the French equivalent sectors at the moment, indicate where Dutch organizations could go in the first place, as well as making them ‘market ready’ in general. For many disciplines Paris still forms the steppingstone for an international career. For this first masterclass the Atelier invited 'fashion therapist' Patricia Lerat from Paris. In individual professionalization sessions she advised the Dutch brands on their strategies.
'Fashion therapist' Patricia Lerat at Waag Society in Amsterdam (photo: Carolien van Tilburg)
The Dutch brands Stoop & Peterson, Bono van Peursem, IRVINX, Saskia ter Welle and Berry Rutjes Jr. signed up for the masterclass of Lerat. Questions that were discussed varied from how do I enter the French market and how to choose the right focus to how to choose the price range for my product and how can my brand grow in a responsible (sustainable) way. During a two-hour-long coaching sessions the participants were provided with tailor-made advice. They were all very pleased with Lerat’s personal approach, and they could implement her advice immediately.
Lerat has some general advice for brands that wish to enter the French market as well: “Build a collection that differs in product and image,” she says. A strong image is important to promote your product on social media, but it is also essential to find a so called showroom within Paris. Recently a shift has occurred in the way products are shown during Paris fashion weeks. From the large exhibition locations such as Première Classe, Who’s Next and Tranoï, international buyers nowadays prefer to meet and see brands and designers in small-scale and more intimate showrooms.
These showrooms, however, won’t admit you if you don’t have a good (product) story. And it is already hard to find the right one without a local network. Lerat’s most pressing advice is therefore: “Create an event or a party, because buzz is a fashion accelerator. As Paris is still the place to be for designers in terms of visibility and credibility,” she says, "designers need to build a strategy and make choices in their use of tools and events.”
From Institut to platform
The masterclasses serve a second purpose, next to empowering Dutch organisations in their march towards France. The other reason needs some contextualisation. From day one, the Atelier Néerlandais chose to take a different course then the Institut Néerlandais. Where the latter concentrated mainly on presenting Dutch cultural outings, by organizing literary soirées, expositions and performances, the Atelier wanted to become a platform facilitating cooperation and network building between Dutch and French organisations.
Carolien van Tilburg, coordinator of the Atelier Néerlandais du premier jour, is satisfied with the achievements of the Atelier so far: “From all the commotion surrounding the closing of the Institut Néerlandais, the team has succeeded in creating a meeting place for the Dutch cultural and creative sector in Paris.” The major change: the setting up of a membership system. For only 150 euros a year, Dutch artists and organisations can become a member of the Atelier. Membership includes usage of the light, white space to work, give presentations to local peers, or organizing network meetings. The low price gives artists and creatives of different sorts a fair chance to explore the French market.
Dutch artist Victor de Bie at work in the Atelier, team Iris van Herpen at work (photos: Atelier Néerlandais) and designs by Iris van Herpen during Paris Fashion Week in June 2018 (photo: Lisa Grob)
Carolien van Tilburg on the balcony of the Atelier Néerlandais (photo: Team Peter Stigter)
Accessible and open
With that, the Atelier Néerlandais has become an accessible, open platform and a unique initiative in the diplomatic world. Van Tilburg: “It’s foremost a meeting place, but content always comes first. We give everyone a chance, but it is ‘plug and play’ and it is really to members themselves to seize their opportunities. This is a very new and singular thing within the world of Embassies.”
However, the members of the Atelier rarely know each other. Considering the fact that members all share one specific interest, which is France, the possibility to meet the other members has been a recurring question. Knowing the other members could contribute to realizing joint projects in France. The masterclasses thus also function as a means to meet the other Dutch members.
Sustainability and innovation in the fashion sector
The Atelier and its members form a sort of Dutch community in Paris. However, the Atelier is definitely not inward-looking, as it searches actively for cooperation opportunities between Dutch and French organisations: “The past five years the Atelier has developed its antenna function to be able to detect developments in France that offer opportunities for the Netherlands. Especially regarding fashiontech and innovative textiles there is a lot of interest,” says Van Tilburg. Whenever possible, members can make use of the Ateliers’network in Paris and France.
Amongst members, many are active in the fashion industry. This sector is – worldwide – more and more criticised for its production processes. Innovation in the use of recycled materials, the environmental-friendly colouring of fabrics or the application of (bio)waste as material are generating attention in the Netherlands as well as in France. The two countries are complementary in these domains, according to Van Tilburg.
Fabrics from organic materials at Biotech:Numerique exhibition (photo: Lisa Grob)
Find an overview of activities and possibilities of the Atelier Néerlandais here.