• Sander Lak
“Talent’s not time-bound. If some- thing's good, it’s good, and if it’s bad, it’s bad. If you look at history, in whatever art form, it doesn’t matter when something is produced—everything finds its place."


Sander Lak graduated from ArtEZ, the Arnhem Academy of Art and Design, in 2007. Two years later, after finishing his MA at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, he immediately got a job designing menswear for 3.1 Phillip Lim, and after that, for Balmain. Lak has been working for Dries Van Noten since August. Sander Lak talks about fashion competitions, his student days, and why it’s good to make things hard when they could be easy.



Do you see a difference between students now and when you graduated? “Talent’s not time-bound. If something’s good, it’s good, and if it’s bad, it’s bad. If you look at history, in whatever art form, it doesn’t matter when something is produced—everything finds its place. So I can’t judge. I can say something about the execution, though. I wasn’t that impressed. That’s probably because these are bachelor’s students, so the level is lower.”


Do you think competitions are useful for students? “Yes. I entered the BLVD competition, and at Saint Martins I won a Puma competition. It’s good to show your collection outside the familiar school environment and test your work against other people’s. It’s important to make a good impression on people and convince them of the quality of your work. When you start working in the fashion industry you’ll have to. But you have to realise that some competitions are little political battles. The winner is almost never the person who deserves it. At Lichting, the jury was totally clean, but that’s often not the case with competitions.”


Sarah Mower remarked that few of the Lichting 2010 collections seemed to reflect the zeitgeist of the students’ generation. Do you agree? “What I missed, and this is probably what Sarah means, was designers who had a vision of their own. Show us what’s going on with your friends—don’t just take ideas from magazines. I saw copies of Céline, Alexander McQueen and Viktor & Rolf. Don’t the teachers notice, I wonder?”


You graduated from the Arnhem academy. What was your experience of studying there? “It was a great time. I was nothing when I started, didn’t even know how to turn on a sewing maching. I didn’t even want to study fashion at first; I wanted to go to film school. But four years later, I’d learned everything there was to learn. I was very eager, wanted to know everything, from who was somebody’s head of PR to who was the boss of LVMH. For me, that’s basic fashion knowledge. I do think that in that way I was an exception at school.


“I took a class from Alexander van Slobbe, who isn’t a great teacher per se, but I looked up to him. And he insisted on it, too. In my case, it worked. I need someone I have to give 110 per cent to, to show what I can do.

“You don’t learn anything about marketing at school. You don’t need to. But I would have liked to learn more about production. For instance, the fact that there’s a production team who make sure your collection gets into the stores, and they get hold of the fabrics and haberdashery. In fact, as I’ve discovered, their work’s more important than what I do. The clothes wouldn’t get into the stores otherwise.”


Was Arnhem comparable to studying in London? “Not at all. To start with, people at Saint Martins work individually, not in the classical way. A class starts with 35 students, studying everything—menswear, womenswear, print, knitwear, textile, accessories, fashion journalism. Twenty of them graduate a year and a half later.


“I studied men’s fashion. In my first year, my tutor was the designer Peter Jensen, who I saw once a week. You can also make appointments with other tutors, say, in knitwear, if you think it’s useful for your collection. Louise Wilson is the head of fashion. She doesn’t really bother with you in your first year; you just hear her yelling at the second-year students. So the tension is raised. In the second year, you meet with her once a week, or more. Graduating was a very intense process. It was only then that I found out what I was good at. And it was something different than what I’d been doing.”


A lot of graduates aspire to have their own labels. Is that sensible? “With just a bachelor’s degree, you’d really need to be extremely talented to be ready for your own label. I’ve been working for two years now, I studied for six years, I have an MA, and I still feel like I don’t know anything! I know how to design clothes, but the production side is still complicated. I wanted to have my own label too, but halfway through Saint Martins, I realised I wasn’t at all ready and preferred to keep learning in a sheltered environment.”


Was it difficult to let go of your graduation collection so quickly? “Yes, it was strange. When I started at Balmain, they didn’t have a menswear collection, and my assignment was to design clothes that matched the Balmain woman. My work at Balmain didn’t come out of my own work, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with it.”


What was your reason for taking the job? “I knew it would be a leap, and I wanted to learn. I think it’s too easy to do things I already know how to do, like making a sketch that works right away. You don’t learn anything then. So I made it difficult for myself. What came as a shock was that there were things that were totally logical to (Balmain art director) Decarnin but that I saw completely differently. I learned from those mistakes.”


By Georgette Koning