Mixing the disparate worlds of fashion and politics can be a tricky thing. The outcome could end up in a theatrical performance that ultimately says more about the designer’s political views than it does about what we will be wearing next winter. But leave it to Francisco van Benthum, undoubtedly one of Holland’s best menswear designers, to come up with a collection that translates the growing unease about Russia’s suppressive regime into fresh and modern pieces that are insync with some of next season’s biggest trends. For this collection, Van Benthum was inspired by constructivism, the artistic movement that originated in Russia. The strong graphic language from avant-gardeist artists such as Kazimir Malevich formed the basis for a powerful and masculine collection, honouring the Russian activists that so bravely fight against the increasing repression of human rights in their country.
Van Benthum’s show felt like a quiet protest, which fits the designer’s aesthetic perfectly. He’s never one to make loud fashion statements, these days at least. Van Benthum started his career at the end of the nineties and was one half of the duo Keupr/van Bentm, known for their experimental and quite hysterical couture for men and women. Since 2003, Van Benthum only does menswear, which – at first glance – looks traditional but on closer inspection always reveals a subtle detail, be it a hidden button closure or an inside pocket placed on the outside.
For a designer that is known for his tailoring, Van Benthum’s FW14 collection had a strong sportswear vibe to it. Of course, there was still plenty of perfectly executed suiting, but most of the formal pieces (pleated cropped trousers galore!) were paired down with casual, streetwise pieces, such as bomber jackets, tees and oversized sweaters, a few of them executed in leather. Some of the garments were graffiti-clad (think: Poetin with Mickey Mouse ears). Typical ‘Russian’ colours such as red, white, silver and grey dominated the colour palette, combined with military green and kaki. Parkas in Japanese nylon and an army sweater in alpaca wool perfectly embodied the luxurious sensibility the Francisco van Benthum label stands for. Football scarves and white sports socks in ‘band aid’ sandals were clever styling elements, adding a hint of macho to Van Benthum’s elegant designs.
To support Amnesty International in its fight for freedom of expression in Russia, the designer created three T-shirts. The proceeds will go to the ‘Stop the repression. Choose freedom’ campaign. A derived version of the tees will be available in Francisco van Benthum’s online store, set to launch in April. Spread the word!