When Manon Boertien (30) graduated from the HKU (Utrecht School of the Arts), she was nominated for the HKU Award and selected for Lichting 2009, a fashion show of the best fashion graduates of 2009 at Amsterdam International Fashion Week. This motivated her to start her own label right away. Soon after Puha Shop opened it’s doors, Manon Boertien was already selling her label there. So it’s about time you get to know the story behind the brand.
Answering unanswerable questions
On Manon’s website, you can read that every collection represents a certain quest. The graduation collection Manon showed at Fashion Week (with the Lichting 2009 show) symbolised her personal quest for happiness, and the latest collections are based on questions you can never answer. The Travellers collection, for example, explores the question: “if a group of women would go travelling through time and space, how would these nomads live and think, and what would they look like?”.
Turning an unanswerable question into a collection, how do you do that? Manon explains: “I try to research the question, looking at scientific theories. From then on, I try to turn that into a more personal story. For example, I once made a collection about a sect. I wanted to know: if I started my own sect, what would the members look like and what would they do? So first I examined existing sects and mixed those with my own interests: what would they believe, what would be the hierarchy and dress code? Then I made up my own rituals, rules and even a required hair colour. While imagining those things, I start designing and new ideas keep coming during the process. This means that when a collection is done, it can be something completely different than I imagined it to be in the first place.” The collection Manon is currently working on is an ode to the sun. “Right now I am answering questions like ‘how did the sun arise’, ‘what would the world look like without it?’ and ‘what if we lived on another planet with no sun?’.”
Working with the sun
Manon’s designs are characterised by atmospheric digital prints. I wondered if those are pictures she made herself, and what she does with them before printing. This turns out to be a much more complex process than I thought. Manon: “For this collection about the sun, I made blueprints with sunlight. I drew stripes on transparent paper, put this over a blueprint paper and left it in the sun for a while. Then I scanned this blueprint of the sun and modified it many times with Photoshop. When the designs for the prints are done, they are printed by a special company that prints on fabrics. And then the sewing starts.”
“While I sew, the design changes a hundred times again. Once I decide it is how it should be, I make the same piece out of the final fabric with the prints on it. And then I am usually still not satisfied, the print is in the wrong place, for example, and I start all over again. But that is how designing works for me. Ideas come while I create.” So the designing takes up a lot of time. After that, the clothes still need to be produced. Up until now, Manon still did every piece by hand, but for the coming collection she will have a manufacturer do that part. “I hope to have the collection finished and produced by spring,” she tells me. But Manon is not bound to seasons. “I like to take the time to perfect my collections, and I want people to buy my designs because they really love them. Then it doesn’t matter what season it is.”
Besides designing, Manon taught visual design, in high schools, for five years. She just resigned from that job so she could focus completely on her label now. I am very excited to see what this will bring. “What are your dreams for the future?” I ask her. “My dream is to stay on this search for answers. That is the most important thing. It would be nice if my label would get bigger, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of this artistic process, because that is the essence of the label. Researching makes me happy.” So Manon took a leap by leaving her other job, but I am sure she won’t be sitting still. For now, I leave her to it in her studio in Utrecht; she has to finish an outfit for singer Janne Schra, who will wear a kimono by Manon during her coming tour.