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Exclusive interview: Stephan Schneider

Antwerp-based designer Stephan Schneider has an effortless aesthetic that has been delighting men and women alike for two decades. Discover the secrets of his enduring success

Feature

by Emma Holmqvist Deacon

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There’s an intellectual air to Stephan Schneider’s considered but effortless aesthetic. Perhaps this stems from his impressive experience. The designer rose to prominence in the mid 1990s, when the Antwerp Six collective was at its height. Not one for avant-garde trends, he regards himself as a clothes designer rather than a fashion maverick. ‘I design real clothes for real people,’ notes the German-born alumnus of Antwerp’s prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts. ‘It’s quite a good position to be in, as it’s difficult to remain relevant and survive on trend-focused collections.’ Yet Schneider concedes one potentially negative aspect to this ethos – the risk of abandoning fantasy. ‘You should always respect people’s practical needs, but you mustn’t step out of your ivory tower for good,’ he asserts firmly. ‘If your creativity doesn’t involve dreams you’re making confection, not fashion.’

Clean cut
Clean as his cut might be, there’s an inherent softness to Schneider’s wearable silhouettes. Shirts and jackets often feature dolman sleeves, while collars are constructed to fall into place rather than being rigidly forced into position. The discreet but distinctive in-seam pockets, which are positioned horizontally on shirts and jackets, have become something of a signature. To give his tailoring a sense of modernity, Schneider recently developed a cut devoid of shoulder seams. ‘I deleted the seams in order to get as far away as possible from that strict 90s silhouette, while at the same avoiding the oversized, bohemian look,’ he explains.

Fragments of a Home
The Stephan Schneider autumn/winter 2016/17 collection is called Fragments of a Home. It exudes warmth and a sense of home comforts, but there’s a poignant undercurrent to the theme. ‘Both my parents passed away in the past couple of years, so the collection is a goodbye to my family home,’ he says. ‘I developed prints inspired by old plates and oil paintings I found in my parents’ house, layering dark blue paint on top of classic sunrises so as to create a moody, mystical atmosphere of the night. It’s a very personal collection.’

Modern androgyny
Schneider has always embraced the idea of genderless fashion, and given that this look is currently sweeping the industry he’s been well ahead of his time. ‘I don’t think in terms of gender when I design – my men’s and women’s lines go hand in hand,’ he says. He doesn’t tell seamstresses if the pieces they’re about to sew are for a man or a woman, and with good reason.

‘It’s peculiar, but as soon as you say it’s a ladies garment, the quality tends to be downgraded automatically,’ he explains. ‘I want my female customers to get the same quality cotton pocket-bags as men expect – why would they have to make do with polyester?’ Sometimes, he admits, his well-meaning quest for sartorial equality backfires, noting that he once tried to enhance one of his women’s pieces with an inside breast pocket similar to those in most men’s jackets. He thought that women would love the practicality of it, but, he says, ‘I had to scrap it since many complained it added bulk to the garment.’

Unique boutique
The label’s only store, which is located on Reyndersstraat in the heart of Antwerp, is an intimate place that brings to mind a walk-in art installation, its cubist wooden staircase making for a Duchamp-esque centrepiece. Though the mildly conceptual air of it will make fashion mavens’ hearts flutter, Schneider’s intentions are far from lofty. ‘The shop has remained unchanged since I opened it in 1996. I want to convey the same feeling you might get from a butcher or a bakery – a neighbourhood spot that is familiar and cosy.’

All about Antwerp
Schneider speaks highly of his adopted city, describing the vibe of Antwerp as a charming mix of German and French cultures in which the quality of life is as high as that of the shopping. ‘The retailers take pride in their businesses, as shopping is important to locals,’ he observes. ‘Flemish people value quality and tend to spend a lot on fashion. They may live quite simply, but many are happy to pay €1,000 for, say, a new Ann Demeulemeester suit. Even students wear designer clothing.’

Schneider says that you’ll find everything you could possibly want in Antwerp, from Céline handbags to Swedish sportswear pieces, and anything in between. ‘The rents are affordable in Antwerp and this makes the shopping terrain democratic and diverse,’ he says. ‘You won’t find marginal designers rubbing shoulders with heavyweights such as Dries Van Noten in many other fashion hotspots.’

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