DENNIS DIEM: Digital Diem
I interviewed Dennis Diem in 2011 for the University of Amsterdam ‘Masters of Media’ Blog – before I went to Central Saint Martins to study journalism. At the University of Amsterdam, I researched how the internet and new technologies have become indispensable for the fashion industry and how luxury brands and fashion designers use new technologies to communicate their messages.
I chose to interview Dennis Diem because he just closed Amsterdam Fashion Week (2011) with his Fool’s Gold collection, and received a lot of attention for his work online. I wondered what Diem’s opinion is on social media, new technologies and the digitalisation of the fashion industry.
Dennis Diem, born the 27th August 1978, is specialised in making detailed corsets and stiletto’s. His growing reputation is based on the way his corsets flatter and enhance the female figure. According to Diem; “A woman’s posture is transformed as soon as the body is laced”. High-heeled shoes are fundamental to his work for the same reason: “High-heeled shoes have the power to instantly change a woman’s aura”.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Personal, craftsmanship, statuesque, intimate and detail. Five words that describe me as a couturier.
What inspired you as a child to be a designer? Was it something you always wanted to do?
As a child I wanted to go to a big art academy to become a sculptor. After high school I went to the Willem de Koning art academy in Rotterdam with that idea still in my mind, but in my first year I became very interested in fashion because I thought it was more applied. That is why after one year I chose fashion as a major instead of sculpture. I became very interested in corsets because like a sculptor they can give you the possibility to change the shape of the human body.
Who are you designing for?
I am designing for every women that want a custom made piece. Personally made, with the perfect size. One of a kind couture.
What do you think fashion customers want today, and what will they want tomorrow?
I think that at the moment every costumer want something new every season. That is why cheaper brands are so popular because they offer so many clothes and new collections for a cheap price. Collections change every season and everybody wants to follow and buy every new trend. For example now the trend is black but next season it will be pink and all costumers want to follow. I hope that this will change in the future. That costumers will prefer craftsmanship and one of a kind pieces specially made for them. That people realise that what they buy now is cheap and falls apart after wearing it one season. That people will get enough of the enormous retail shops and start searching and appreciating unique fashion pieces.
Which designer particularly inspires you?
Dutch-Chinese fashion designer Fong Leng inspires me, she was very popular in the seventies. Her most famous customer was Mathilde Willink. I love her jackets and the way she revise leather.
What do you love and loathe about fashion?
I love to create something personal together with my clients. The perfect piece that fits like a glove. To create something beautiful one on one. I loathe, as I already made clear in question four, that customers always want to have the latest. That they always change their taste just because they want to have what is new and because they listen to what the big brands decide every season. Furthermore I don’t like it when people walk around with big brand names on their clothes.
What was your biggest fashion success?
The golden dress I created for supermodel Dorith Mous, that she wore to the Oscars.
If dreams could come true, what would be your career wish?
I would love to “Get Bigger to stay Smaller”. I would like to sell more so I can invest in ‘old’ fashion techniques like embroidering. I do not have the ambition to become a commercial huge fashionhouse which goal is to make money. Because I love to keep things traditional, small and personal.
I saw your two beautiful runway shows and collections on your website, named ‘Yurei’ and ‘Fool’s Gold’. I noticed that in both shows you were fascinated with corsets and stiletto’s. Why is that?
I think that a dress or make-up can make a women more beautiful but a corset can change a women’s figure and posture. Stilettos can do the same they can make women more delicate, slender and feminine.
For the Yurei collection you were inspired by the woodcuts made by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, which tell centuries-old tales of Yuries. (Yuries are the lingering soules of those who died a violent death.) Why where you inspired by such a dark and terrifying subject? Are you attracted to the Japanese culture?
(Laughing) I don’t think that the Yurei is such a dark and terrifying subject. The Yurei are the lingering souls of women who died while having strong emotions. The strongest emotion is often love. They loved a man very intensive and then they died. When they die this emotion remains and I thought this idea was quite beautiful. But true sometimes these emotions are dark like revenge and anger and the women always die in a terrible way.
I am not extremely interested in Japanese culture but I love the strict Japanese corsages and Japanese traditions. The corsets that the women wear change their posture and mentality. Their corset is like an armor and we cannot trace their emotions. Furthermore my right hand is Japanese and she learns me a lot about colors and fabrics.
With your second show ‘Fool’s Gold’ you ended the last AIFW. The show was a collaboration with Italia Independent. How did that collaboration started and what was your inspiration for the Fool’s Gold collection?
Italia Independent is my Sponsor. I got inspired my the mineral Pyrite. Pyrite has a golden luster. For centuries, miners often mistook its seductive gleam for gold. For a few seconds, minutes or days, they believed themselves to be rich. But its value is a fraction of real gold, hence the name ‘Fool’s Gold’. The Fool’s Gold collection plays with the value of aesthetics versus the value of wealth, rawness versus finery. Rough woven linen balances flowing silk. Sober black contrasts with rich embroidery. Controlled and detailed stitching plays against burned edges. The immensely high stiletto’s were inspired on mine coals.
What is your next big project? Where are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on the new AIFW the winter 2012/2013 collection. This time we have a more happy subject since the whole collection is inspired on the tropical Toucan bird. The black and white bird with the colored beak. We will start the show in black and white and then add more and more color – the grand finally will be totally colored.
What are your plans for the long term?
I am going to open a shop in de Herenstraat in de Jordaan, Amsterdam.
For my Master thesis I am researching how luxury brands are incorporating digital media. I am very interested in the opinion of Dutch Designer Dennis Diem.
What do you think about digital media?
Actually not much, until my last show. Italia Independent is my biggest sponsor and they are very digitally involved. Furthermore Dutch stylist Bastiaan van Schaik did the styling and production. Both are very commercial and both were very involved in social media. I must say I was extremely skeptical at first but thanks to their usage of social media I noticed that I got a lot of brand awareness. AIFW streamed my show live and lots of models, celebrities and my sponsors were Twittering about my show. For brand awareness and commercial goals new media proved itself to be extremely useful but I must say that I would never apply it for myself. Or at least I have not yet found a way that fits me! At the moment I do not really like to share everything in advance and with the whole world. I like to keep things personal, meet people eye to eye. I think everything in new media gets really fluffed up. I do not even have Twitter and must say that I don’t really like to type.
As part of the fashion industry do you notice that the industry is getting more digitalised and involved with new media?
I had the idea that PR agencies were putting pressure on the fashion industry. I must say that I am not really using digital media and I know that other Dutch couturiers are also not using it either. But last fashion week PR agencies and AIFW itself used a lot of social media to get a lot of attention and it proved to be very useful. I like things to be more personal, I make art in my atelier for my customers. I think it is kind of ‘cheap’ to share everything with the world. I am more traditional. But I do realise that digital media made me more popular and thanks to AIFW I now have now more customers.
Do you think digital media is important for the fashion industry? That all Luxury brands should use digital media?
I think you should make a division between commercial fashion brands and non commercial fashion brands. If you want to have a huge brand or fashion house you have to hype yourself. Social media is the perfect platform for hyping, connecting, advertising and brand awareness. But if you are more traditional like me, then you do not have to use digital media. But then again this is a bit double because thanks to new media I did get a lot of attention…
Are you using digital technologies in your design process? For example do you experiment with 3D or holograms? LIVE-stream your runway shows?
We streamed the fashion shows LIVE but that was an idea from AIFW. With my next show I will experiment with 3D. Together with Italia Independent we will provide 3D glasses so that people can view the show afterwards in 3D and during the show these glasses are provided at several opticians in the Netherlands so that admires can see the show even LIVE in 3D.
Apart from that I work very traditional, I make my own patterns and embroider techniques. I only use my computer for email. This does not mean that I don’t know how it works and what digital techniques are out there. Before I began my own label I worked with computers all the time and designed everything digitally.
Have you created a website, an e-shop or an App? Or do you use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube?
I have a website: www.dennisdiem.nl. Furthermore I have Facebook, a personal page, however I do except clients and work colleagues. I will never accept people that I don’t know though. I don’t have a Facebook fan-page or brand-page, nor Twitter, YouTube page, an app or e-shop.
If you would use digital media, with what goal would you use it?
I would say for brand awareness. I would never want to get an e-shop because I like it to be more traditional, focussed on imagery. I would like to update my website to give my customers more background info. It would be cool if I could scan my creations in 3D so that my customers can view my clothiers in detail. To show people how everything is created by hand, pure craftsmanship. But eventually my main priority would be to use the website as a tool to redirect my customers to my atelier so I can meet them in person.
I think that in the fashion industry there is a division between digitally progressive labels who are experimenting and try to keep their costumers and admirers involved and the more traditional labels who minimally use the internet to keep an exclusive, mythical image. What do you think about this division? On which side are you?
I think you have to look at the heritage of a label. For example Chanel seems to be traditional in its collections but it is one of the most digitally progressive labels. They share their ideas and collections online, even before the show. In contrary to other big fashion houses who try to keep there collections extremely private until the show. This is not really surprising if you look at Chanel’s history. Coco Chanel was the first one who allowed her invites to come to the show with a sketchbook. She argued that “she was the best and nobody could do it better than her”- if people would copy her collection it would be just cheap advertisement, because sure people would recognise what a real Chanel looks like.
Obvious I am more traditional. My main priority is to keep everything personal. I think it is extremely important for me to meet my clients, show them how I create something, to interact with them en create something together with them. I try to give everything a personal touch. I write my invites for my shows personal and I get them personally delivered to my biggest stylists and customers. I try to keep everything authentic from beginning to end and devote a lot of my time and energy in this. I do notice that a lot of my clients appreciate this.
What do you think that the future of fashion and digital media will be? How do you think that you and other Luxury brands will use new media in the future?
I think that the division between traditional and commercial brands will become bigger. The bigger the fashion brand the more they have to be digitally involved. I prefer traditional media, the old fashion-way. For the Yurei fashion shoot we even used an analogue camera. I like that you have only one chance to make a good picture, a risk that is lost when you lose a digital camera. What I noticed is that people love old traditions, look at the new iPhone camera apps which has analogue themes to make your digital picture look like you shot it with an analogue camera. I think that I will only use new media if it will benefit the product. Like the 3D holograms to give customers more info about my collections. I would not use it for PR ends. But then again with my shows it also depends on what the sponsors want.
Source pictures (Show 2013): http://maryfashionbirds.blogspot.nl/2013/01/afw-dennis-diem.html