While I was waiting in line for the graduation show of the fashion department of ArtEZ (Institute of the Arts), I noticed a lady wearing an elegant little scarf under her perfect trench coat. That lady turned out to be the father of Anne Kluytenaar. She graduated this year with the collection Lux is Crossing, a menswear collection that makes use of iconic elements of chic women's fashion. The lady who lived her life as a man only a year ago inspired Anne. Her father Peter had become Pieta.
How did your father tell you he wanted to continue his life as a woman?
One time I had seen stockings in his bathroom and that surprised me because my parents were no longer together at that point. When I came over at his house one evening I noticed he was wearing a bra underneath his sweater. That is to say, I took up on it but I didn't really draw any conclusion from it. After about an hour, he said: 'Sit down, I have to tell you something.'
He told me had recently discovered that he wanted to be a woman. That there had always been something that did not feel right and that he now knew he was a transgender.
Did his revelation come as a surprise?
The image I had of my father was that of a sailor, a man with a pipe. He grew up in inland shipping and later on he sailed at sea. He has always been involved in shipping and later on decided to live on a ship, that's where I was raised.
So he was a man's man, with a few eccentricities?
At a certain point he had read about this German designer online who made skirts for men. He ordered some and started to wear them. That was when I was in high school so this was not something I was happy about. I thought to myself 'Why does he have to look this eccentric?', but it was not necessarily a reason to think my father wanted to be a woman.
How did you respond when he told you?
I thought 'Ok, if that's what makes you happy you have to admit to it,' but he told me this, looking like my father. Two days later he wore lipstick and mascara when we went to find him a new pair of glasses. We would meet each other in the city and it was a lot more intense to see him like that, dressed as a woman. It was something I had to get used to. My response was: 'Ok, I have to accept this, I am an open minded person, I'm in art school, I am supposed to be ok with this.' But that's not exactly what happened and it took me quite a while.
How did you decide to use the story of your father as a starting point for your collection?
I noticed that the distinction between what's specifically feminine and what's specifically masculine was incredibly important to him. I was interested in crossing that border, I really couldn't think of a better subject. During my studies I had always designed for women and my father's transition made me think of applying women's clothes on to a male body. My teachers thought it was a big risk to take but I was very sure about it. When one of my teachers told me to try it, things went really smooth, even though my three years of studying before had been tough. I always wanted to be in fashion but I struggled to find my signature. The moment I started to work with menswear, things took off.
I always had an interest in the detailing and finishing of menswear and I was more involved with the little design choices. That's what makes designing men's clothes work for me. I was not able to make the big gesture women's wear demands a designer to make, my work was not distinct enough. Now I do manage to create an image, it's easier with men. I think it the timing was perfect. Three years ago, things weren't working out and then I found out this is what I could and really wanted to be doing.
What did you want to say with your collection?
My focus lies at the point where femininity takes over on a male body. The moment when it's not right anymore. The point of departure was the story of my father, but I let go of that along the way. In the end it was more about the idea of his transition, the men that I portray do not necessarily want to be women. I used the Chanel suit as a technique to translate extreme femininity to a man.
You based your collection on very chic women's clothes. Does your father dress this fancy all of the time?
My father was together with my mom for a very long time. And my mother is a true lady who always wears lipstick, her Chanel perfume and her pearls. She dresses distinctly ladylike. I think he somehow took this from her, wearing a lot of jewellery and making sure his nails always look perfect. It's a very neat look and I wanted to use that in my collection.
My father has good fashion days and less successful days. When I look at him I have to disconnect it from my taste. I prefer a subdued look, so for me he overdresses when he puts a flower in his hair and wears all that jewellery. But in the end I think he is doing a good job considering the situation, a lot of people tell me they did not recognize my father as a man. If it were up to me, I'd dress my father feminine but in a more subtle way. He tends to throw too many things together. He is a woman in a men's body and that body is still very present to him so I think that is why he covers it up with femininity. I can totally imagine that. I think my father has always loved women's things and he now behaves like a kid in a candy store. He is in his 'fashion puberty', we all go through a phase where you mix and match everything until you find your style. I think that's the kind of period he is going through right now.
What does your father think of the collection? Would he wear any of it?
He is very supportive of what I do and he loves fashion, but my father would not wear any of the designs because they were made for men. If I had designed them for women, he would have worn them. It's all about that border to him, that's very important. I told him: 'You can wear those men pants and combine them with heels,' but that doesn't work for him. Whatever he wears must be designed for women.
Translated by: Maurits de Bruijn