Stephan Schneider on curating the Nationa(a)l Pop Up Store

Right after high-school, German-born Stephan Schneider moved to Antwerp to study fashion at the renowned Royal Academy. Once done there, the designer started his own fashion label and set up shop in Reyndersstraat. 18 years later and the shop is still there in the very same spot: Schneider’s sophisticated, contemporary and relaxed designs are here to stay. The organisers of the temporary concept store Nationa(a)l, that will open its doors this week in Brussels, have convinced him to curate the fashion section, and we had a chat with the man himself about his selection, the new generation and why a strong product is always key.

Why did you agree to participate in the Nationa(a)l store? What do you like about the concept?

In today’s world everything is about images and the visual. I’ve taught at Berlin’s UdK for seven years and the new generation is constantly studying images and surfing the internet. I’ve developed such an aversion the word ‘images’ and expressions such as ‘creating a look’. You have to try on things, feel them, and yes, also buy them. Buying is nothing negative! Many people give negative connotations to selling and buying, we have to stop doing that. Designers should make tactile things that you can buy. I opened up my own store right after I graduated, 18 years ago. It’s important to present your creations to the public. The pop up store gives designers this possibility to show and sell; it’s a very nice initiative.

The main motivation of the organisers was the fact that many young designers don’t know much about the business side of things and need some help to get their stuff out there. Do you think schools should include this in their curriculums?

Paradoxically my answer is no. Fashion schools are not the place for marketing or business strategy classes. You cannot teach how to be successful. And you have to create your own target group, in an imaginative and crazy way. For example, you might decide to only make things for men with blue hair and one leg. That has nothing to do with these typical marketing classes where you learn about the female golf driver who goes to LA twice a year. You have to make the experiences for yourself, and they are different for every single product. If a product is strong, then it will stand its ground on the market. The world has become small and you can find customers worldwide. That’s why I’m all for projects like the pop up store, it helps designers to show their creations to the public.

Students already have a press agent before they’ve even made an own collection. What a perverted world!

But it is a fact that many young designers have problems when it comes to the whole business side. What do you think is the reason for that?

I think many do have an inhibition threshold to start their own thing, also because it costs money. And I feel that quite a few of the young ones live in an ivory tower and don’t want to deal with how something is sewed together. Being a fashion designer doesn’t stop with drawing a design. You have to be a motivator, of the sewers, and all producers actually. But a lot of the young designers don’t want to deal with customers and all that anymore, and students already have a press agent before they’ve even made an own collection. As I said, everything is about the image. What a perverted world!

You are one of the ‘godfathers’ of the Nationa(a)l store, and got to select some of the young designers showing at the event. How did you make your choice?

I completely followed my gut feeling! I like when a product carries a bit of humour and isn’t too serious. And I was looking for something young and fresh, something that’s maybe even a bit naïve and untouched.

How did you find these designers? Did you already know them?

I did some research and looked at all the graduates from the fashion schools. They are completely new names, I had never heard of them before.

Let’s talk a bit about yourself. Right after high-school you left Germany and went to Antwerp, where you’ve been living ever since. What made you move and finally remain there?

I’m from Duisburg, a very industrial city, and I thought it was great what was happening there in the end of the 80s. The first time I went to Antwerp was because the only Yamamoto store – besides Paris – was located there. In the beginning I even thought Antwerp was in the Netherlands. And then when I was there I saw all these little shops, from Dries Van Noten, Louis had just opened a store…there wasn’t that fear of starting something, of putting ideas into practise. I found that very appealing. In Antwerp, fashion is directly produced and worn! I was never interested in Haute Couture or the old established fashion houses. Belgian fashion is so strong because it’s young and not established. Even a Dries Van Noten is not really established, he’ll never be on the same level as Armani, and that’s a good thing. Belgian fashion is fresh and the luxury segment is not that important.

To make you dream whilst keeping you warm – that’s the ideal combination. That’s what defines a good designer.

You could have relocated to Paris or Berlin for example, where you were teaching. Why did you never do that?

Berlin is a great city, but when it comes to the production process you just don’t have the same possibilities there. For 18 years now I’ve been working with the same manufacturers and you build relationships in the process that you cannot end all of a sudden. It adds a certain continuity and a feeling of safety. I cannot imagine at all producing my clothes anywhere else. Here in Belgium I can easily visit everyone I work with by car, and I do so every week. It’s a small country, and there’s not so much of all this celebrity stuff, and party party party, but it makes it easy to work very closely with your manufacturers and you can feel that in the end product.

You once said that you wouldn’t design a coat in which people freeze or a jacket with 12 sleeves. Is this practical thinking the German in you?

Yes, I feel very German sometimes. When I was younger I thought German was unsexy and uncreative, but that’s not true. And the older I get the more I appreciate German virtues. Practicality is important. But this attitude maybe also stems from the fact that I’ve been standing in my store every day for more than 10 years, listening to the customers’ opinions. That really puts you in touch with reality. Nevertheless, fashion has to inspire you to dream and create desire! To make you dream whilst keeping you warm – that’s the ideal combination. That’s what defines a good designer.

Is that something you were looking for when selecting the designers for the pop up store?

Exactly.

What tips do you have for young designers who are at the beginning of their careers?

Find out what it is that makes you collection unique. What’s your passion, your strength? Then focus on that. And: present your creations internationally. It’s useless to just show your things at something like MODO Brussels or Berlin fashion week. You just need to show in Paris, there’s no way around it. And don’t be afraid to sell. I don’t understand why some young designers just create ‘show collections’ and then make their money as a stylist or in a café. Really engage yourself and make it your goal to live from selling your clothes. Isn’t that what it’s all about in the end?

Nationa(a)l Pop Up Store
From 7th to 16th December
Place du Chatelain 18 Kateleinsplein – 1050 Brussels
www.nationalstore.be