When you think of sportswear, do you think Team GM Olympic kit, or do you think Coco Chanel in the 1920s introducing a new brand of lifestyle wear to the masses? If the latter is your answer, then you need to know about Christian Blanken.
The Dutch designer - who came via Central Saint Martins and design stints both in New York and the Far East – has made the vocabulary of classic sportswear his own, and designs beautifully tailored, timeless and practical clothing that every girl should have in her wardrobe. Blanken's AW12 show at London Fashion Week garnered rave reviews for its chic simplicity and high quality finish: picture super-skinny trousers, shimmering silk shift dresses and square-cut sleeveless blazers made from luxe woven wool.
And the designer himself? We discovered that underneath the rather serious clothing there is a man with a pretty wicked sense of humour. Read on...
What are your design signatures?
A really decisive clean and sharply cut garment with a good fit executed in a luxurious or interesting fabric.
Who is the Christian Blanken girl?
Strong, bold and as straightforward as the clothes I design, she might be a bit high maintenance once in a while, please forgive her.
What can we expect from the CB label in the next 3-5 years?
Growth in many areas, I’m very interested in menswear, collaborations of many kinds, retail expansion. I’m also in the process of publishing a book about the evolution of sportswear with Bloomsbury so a finger in a few pies I guess.
What celebrity would you most like to see wearing Christian Blanken?
I think I could do a better line of pantsuits for Angela Merkel than the ones she wears at the moment. I love many types of women ranging from the obvious like models Gisele Bundchen, Erin Wasson, to artists like Courtney Love, to super smart women in power like Hillary Clinton or Christine Lagarde of the IMF.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I’m a traditionalist. I look at fabric first, then colour, then a context to put it all into which is usually about a look. Last season was Terri Toye, Stephen Sprouse’s former muse, but I’m not a narrative designer, not a story teller - so I don’t fabricate a tale about a princess who’s lost her way on the Tundra etc., that bores me to death. I would much rather try to improve wardrobe staples and create good clothes - it's hard enough as it is!
You are a fan of the minimalist line – do you ever see yourself breaking out of that?
I’m not that minimalist. There is usually a bit more going on with the clothes than meets the eye but yes, I do like straight lines rather than frills and ruffles and if I do use an ornate fabric or trim there has to be a reason behind it. I tend to do more busy clothes for my consultancies as busy clothes sell better.
What’s your favourite piece you’ve designed to date?
That’s very tough! I love different clothes for different reasons but I have just donated a red taffeta kimono trouser suit to Iain R. Webb who is the curator of the Fashion Museum in Bath. It was for their permanent display and it was worn by Stella Tennant many years ago as a first exit of a show I did in New York in the mid 90s along with original old school Jimmy Choo red satin high heel sandals, so it has a meaning to me.
Your AW12 collection caused quite a stir. Why do you think this was and how do you hope to make it continue next season?
I think because it took a stand and was quite uncompromising. In my commercial work I have to please on many different levels so that show was very much about doing something that I felt was right for the moment – without compromise. Thankfully, many people agreed.
You describe your look as ‘sportswear’ – what do you mean by this?
Sportswear is a terminology that started with Chanel in the 1920s, and it has evolved over the decades. It is mostly abut pragmatic fashion – it isn’t necessarily athletic wear, it’s more about practical yet visually pleasing clothing. Claire McCardell was probably the greatest sportswear designer in history, Helmut Lang was the best 90s example and Alexander Wang is probably the best example of a current sportswear designer.
You’ve lived in the Netherlands, the Far East and London – which of these has most influenced your design style?
I think they have all contributed. I notice a slight Asian slant always in my work so that must come from having grown up in the Far East. My period in New York as a jobbing designer formed my practical viewpoint on clothing as well as my work ethic. My work in Italy has shaped my appreciation for great quality, while London has formed my tendency to get inspired by what I see and am surrounded by, as it is visually probably the most arresting city in the world, with the best art, music and youth culture. I’ve travelled a lot so I feel pretty confident in making a statement like that – it’s a great city and I love it!