Some designers come to Pitti as a consecration, others as a discovery. But Jan Jan Van Essche came for his runway debut triumphing on Wednesday with a beautiful show staged in Renaissance splendor in Florence.
A show that was as much a performance as a catwalk display, finishing with a ballet by choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a Belgian-Moroccan known for blending martial arts gestures and experimental dance.
Entitled ‘Rite’, this fall/winter 2023 unisex collection was a hit on multiple levels – silhouette, fabric innovation, texture and, above all, attitude.
“We are amazingly grateful to be here. It’s a great honor to be invited to Pitti, and it’s a wonderful place to finally make my runway debut,” smiled the Belgium-born and Antwerp-based Van Essche.
His key garment was the poncho/cape, seen in a plethora of shapes; cut elephantine and finished with side buttons and flap pockets. All expressing Jan Jan’s novel take on nomadic chic in a show staged inside a looming vaulted hall known as the Cappella degli Ubriachi within the Santa Maria Novella basilica complex.
The designer traveled quite some distance for his fabrics, most of which are sourced in Japan. Most brilliantly a series of shibori plaid pattern woolens, which are hand-dyed by specialist masters, adding a subtle depth to the collection.
The “hand” of many materials managed be rough-hewn yet also grand, partly explained by another distant source; yak wool coming from Mongolia.
In another unlikely move, he smartly incorporated bincho tan-dyed cotton, made by combining coffee and ink, which imparted a wonderful faded look to many items.
Van Essche, who makes all his own patterns, had begun working on the collection before visiting Florence to look for a suitable location.
“But when I saw this place it gave me goosebumps. So, in the editing process I highlighted certain colors and hues that were perfect for this location,” he told FashionNetwork.com.
Born in Antwerp, the son of a pharmacist dad and school teacher mum, Van Essche graduated from the city’s famed fashion college in 2003. After a short stint working for Dries Van Noten, he set up his own brand 12 years ago and quietly built a reputation as a fresh voice in fashion. Culminating with today’s very special show.
“I am not a man of words, but of emotion. And I hope this Rite, inspired by Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, will lead to the audience to making some transitions in their minds,” said Jan Jan, a gentle figure whose dreadlocks extend all way to his ankles.
Van Essche-mode manages to be both utilitarian and noble, creating jumpsuits, cut with intriguing built-in waistcoats, or oversized coats with splayed collars.
Though perhaps his most impressive skill was blending industrial ideas – like some sensational waxed cotton ponchos, pants and rain gear – with the hyper traditional. He worked with a partner weaver, a dashing artisan named Lamine Diouf, using a loom he found in a second-hand shop, to create a brilliant series of “couture” windowpane checks and plaids seen in billowing tunics and dusters. Diouf taking the final passage in one of them with great pride.
Jan Jan travelled north to Vienna for some very cool cloche hats by Austrian Werkstätte Mühlbauer and again to Japan for tan leather boots custom made by Petrosolaum duo, Ryo and Sotaro Ogino.
His casting was inclusive and gutsy, all of them finishing the show by strolling out into the marvelous cloisters of the basilica where the cast posed on blocks, as a Japanese drummer beat out a dramatic tattoo.
“Yesterday, was a beautiful day, when things fell into place. We always said we would do our first show when the time was right. It feels right now,” beamed Jan Jan.
Talk about a great runway debut.
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