Was Marie Antoinette the world's first agrarian fashion influencer? It's a question I pose to Sies Marjan designer Sander Lak in his Chelsea studio, looking at pieces from his Fall/Winter 2020 collection. We're looking at a blouse adorned with a print of French noblewomen frolicking in the countryside. Lak points out that this idyllic notion of glamping took off with the upper echelons of French society once Antoinette took a liking to it, emulating the look as if it were a Rococo-era Carhartt beanie.
“When Marie Antoinette was like, ‘I'm really into the countryside,’ everyone else was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, the countryside, yes. Let's pretend to wear farm clothes!’” says Lak jokingly. Certain pieces in the collection are inspired by Countryside, The Future, a new exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum focusing on the evolution and development of rural life and culture. It's a collaboration with Dutch architect, theorist, and noted urbanist Rem Koolhaas as well as AMO, the think tank arm of Koolhaas' Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), directed by Samir Bantal. Sies Marjan is one of the many sponsors for the daunting exhibit, which marks the first time the circular halls of the museum have been dedicated to something other than art.
Lak and Koolhaas began getting to know each other about a year ago. They both share a Dutch heritage, but their lives and careers haven't necessarily been defined by it. They also share peripatetic childhoods, both growing up in different parts of Asia (Indonesia for Koolhaas and Malaysia for Lak). After a visit to Koolhaas' studio in Rotterdam to see the first inklings of the sprawling exhibition, Lak began working on the collection last September.
“I had this subject that I would never pick myself. I would never be like, ‘Oh, let me do a collection about countryside.’ So it was really something that I had to wrap my brain around,” admits Lak, who prefers to work instinctively. “I had to not only understand but see how I could make it Sies Marjan, because in the end, we don't represent anything but ourselves.”
So Lak amped up the bold, expressive color stories his label is known for, channeling verdant hues and rich blues that evoke nature, as well as bright oranges subtly nodding to the national color of the Netherlands. He also teamed up Cornell University's Natural Dye Studio on several custom dyeing processes that give workwear-inspired shirts and trousers a luxurious, lived-in look. Some garments utilize dye from fresh, locally sourced foliage. Others look as if they grew from the ground itself, while another color tells a story of gilded decay.
“It was a good lesson afterward because I realized that — especially how our generation is trained — we're always looking at the same things because everything is an algorithm. We're all looking in our own little pool of things: I'm interested in X, Y, Z, so I only see X, Y, Z and what is around that,” says Lak. “The subject matter really forced me to look at functionality in a different way. And I still needed it to be soft and fluid and liquid to a certain extent because that's always what I like and what I wear.”
One of the couture-like pieces from the collection is still being perfected. It's a collaboration with German artist Diana Scherer, known for her work utilizing roots grown into ornate, lace-like tapestries. Lak has turned her medium into a beautiful overcoat, but they're still working out how to make a version that better holds the roots to the garment.
In addition to sponsoring the exhibit, Sies Marjan and AMO also teamed up on a limited-edition capsule collection tying more directly into the work featured in the museum. Lak was really inspired by the idea of items that lived in a gift shop, resulting in the first time his label is releasing $245 jersey hoodies and $80 graphic T-shirts. One graphic feature is a reinterpreted illustration of a French farmer culled from a history book. Another is a colorful world map adorned with the Sies Marjan logo. It's Lak's ode to the maps that characterize several exhibits.
“There's no political game here. It's very much about this idea of something very colorful,” says. Lak. “I wanted it to be something happy and positive. It's like these are the colors of the Sies Marjan universe.”
In addition to affordable accessories — like $35 socks, $50 tote bags, and $55 dégrade umbrellas done in two very Sies Marjan colorways — there are also $125 scarves, a $152 blanket, and the limited-edition Drenthe Heath Pillow, an eye-catching collaboration between textile artist Claudy Jongstra (whose work is also interpreted in several Sies Marjan pieces from the FW20 collection) and Maharam. The $875 pillow is available at the museum and also 1stdibs.com. The Sies Marjan x AMO capsule collection is currently available at siesmarjan.com, SSENSE, and the Guggenheim store.