Interview with Amsterdam designer Ellen Schippers
...."Amsterdam's most renowned and long standing designer of extravagant fashion"... Mondo 2000
The designs of Ellen Schippers are feminine and sophisticated. All her designs are custom made in her studio in Amsterdam. Her clients are not only women but also men. Her collection is diversified from beautifully shaped leather jackets to extravagant party dresses. All unique pieces from the best quality materials. She works for a wide range of customers also abroad like theater groups, podium artists, and others. Men and women who like to distinguish themselves. Celebrities like Nance, Sylvana, Ellen ten Damme, Robine van de Meer, Marianne Timmer, Maartje van Weegen, Justin Bieber wear already Ellen Schippers designs.
We had the possibility ask her few questions about her work as an desiner.
TEG: Can you tell our readers a little bit about who Ellen Schippers is?
Ellen: I am a fashion designer and an artist. From a young age on I have always been fascinated by clothing and later by the role it has in society. People are expected to dress according to the social group they belong to. If one is different it calls for reactions There is always an emotion or an opinion behind the way people dress. Therefore I see it as a strong communication tool. Another aspect I find interesting is that clothing has the ability to transform you into a totally different personality. And that it is an important tool to create a fantasy world.
Finally what interests me is that some garments are placed under taboo. When I was in primary school, a girl could be sent home if she would wear a too short skirt. Everything a little too sexy was referred to as vulgar. I myself love sexy clothing and experience the taboo around it. Girls and women were not allowed to express their sexuality. Women shown in magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse were always photographed in sweet lingerie, in a passive way and their sexuality was a derived version of man’s sexuality. In the second half of the eighties, this taboo inspired me to design an erotic fashion collection for women, in which they did look strong and independent.
TEG: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?
Ellen: After presenting a performance with three women in leather outfits in 1983, I got requests to design fashion in a similar way. One of the first requests was a black leather wedding dress. I realized then that women needed other designs to express themselves. In those days this kind of designs did not exist. That’s why I decided to create an erotic collection of black PVC, leather and latex material which made women strong and self-assured. The choice of color and material was very important because it gave women a strong appearance.
This collection was shown on the main television channel in Holland in 1986 and reached 6 million people. Most of them were really shocked at the time. In the same time, I designed a Bare Bottom Trousers for men. Due to that, a role switching took place in which the man became the sex object instead of the woman. It is the woman who undresses the man. This took place in the same television program. This presentation on television made me the first erotic designer in the Netherlands. Due to more television programs and other publications, I got more and more requests for my designs and I started my own business Ellen Schippers Design.
TEG: Are you self-taught or did you study fashion design?
Ellen: Partially self-taught and partially by the study. As a child, I was already busy making clothes for my dolls and later for myself. At a young age, I learned from my mother, who was a couple, how to operate a sewing machine. Later on, I have studied Textile Design and after that, I went on to an Art Academy. I experimented with different materials and forms and developed my wearable art sculptures. For instance the lemonade tube suit for a man. Through this study, I started to combine different disciplines and to create wearable art sculptures for my performances. With my wearable art sculptures, I tell stories about beauty ideals, about the relationship between men and women etc.
TEG: How has your work evolved since the beginning till now?
Ellen: During the time I decided to present my creations (fashion as well as wearable art sculptures) in a performance form, in which movements, choreography, light, music, and poetry took part. And to work with dancers, actors, and mime-players who could present my designs in a theatrical way instead of work with the regular fashion models. These performances became full evening performance shows that I presented mainly in theaters. Along with television programs and publications, I was invited to different countries to show my creations. That created a situation where more people asked for my designs.
TEG: Who inspires you the most in fashion? Anyone who stands out?
Ellen: I am mainly inspired by movies, dance, and theatre. Movies like My Fair Lady which I saw at very young age. I loved the beautiful black & white designs of Cecil Beaton and above all the transformation of the actress Audrey Hepburn from a poor flower street seller to a beautiful distinguished lady. I was impressed that clothing had the power to give you a different personality and could dictate your posture and movements. Later on, I was overwhelmed by the movie Satyricon of Federico Fellini, by the mysterious atmosphere, and that one could create a fantasy world in which clothing played an important role. In fashion, I love the creations by Thierry Mugler, a most innovative designer, adventurous and provocative. He really stands out and has inspired me.
TEG: How would you describe your brand?
Ellen: All my designs from fashion to wearable art sculptures are handmade from person to person exactly to fit them. My brand is a personal stamp and not meant for mass production. I am a perfectionist and not easily satisfied with a result. I try to work it out as much as possible to the customer and me are both satisfied. Not only concerning the designs but also in the way it is made, the material, the shape, the stitches etc.My strong point is the feeling for shaping in combination with the female body.
Above all, I strive to make unique pieces. I mean by that that it has to be original. I can be seen as a designer who creates a new look, like for instance the erotic collection, the lemonade suit, the dildo dresses, the catsuits with inflatable breasts, the bat collection.
TEG: Who would you like to work with, or what is your dream project?
Ellen: I would like to work with Madonna because I feel connected to her life experience, her ideas about women sexuality and presentation. I feel the same sort of feminism that she stands for. My dream project would be to install in a big industrial space all my designs in combination with video projections, sound, poetry, in a theatrical mysterious atmosphere.
TEG: What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company?
Stay close and listen to yourself and follow it. Be faithful to yourself, to your own ideas and standards about what you think is important and not somebody else. Experiment with different materials, forms, and presentations to find out your own expression and style.
TEG: There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with their greatest collection season after season. What advice would you give to young designers just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?
Ellen: It is hard for me to answer this question because I do not work like that. I have chosen for a small company and work in my own way. I do not feel the urge to show every season a collection. I see my total work as an organic development from the one to the other design. My advice to the young designers is just listened to yourself and stick to your own ideas. Be faithful to yourself, to your own standards what you find important. That is the only way to create something of your own, to create your own style. Another thing is to experiment, take initiative and create your own projects.
TEG: How do you produce and distribute your designs?
Ellen: I have my own Studio in the quarter de Pijp in Amsterdam since 35 years and I work for my own customers also abroad, among others podium artists and theatre groups; I make all my designs to measure. My collection varies from fashion to wearable art sculptures. Most of my designs are skintight, so it needs to be fitted perfectly on one's body. Customers can choose from my collection and then it is specially handmade for them. I ask them for what purpose they want it. I like to know what they feel is important. I give advice, I accentuate in a design the strongest points in one's body.
That can be a catsuit with inflatable breasts or a stunning bat dress for a party, a sexy wedding dress or a beautifully shaped leather jacket.
When women wear my designs there is a transformation in their behavior, because they feel comfortable, sexy and stylish and that makes them self-assured. Most of them come back and tell me that they were overwhelmed with compliments. For me, this generates a lot of satisfaction. Above all, I want to give women a good feeling with my creation and about themselves.
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