May 26, 2017 | By Samuel Trotman
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The growing number of denim brands emerging out of Amsterdam has seen the city’s role as European denim capital grow apace in recent years. Among the cluster of major denim brands and smaller ateliers concentrated in and around the Dutch capital, the newly conceived Atelier de l’Armée has emerged the latest spark in Amsterdam’s flourishing denim scene. We spoke to founders Joost and Elza to discuss the city’s denim scene, inspirations behind the brand and their shared love for indigo.
As Amsterdam’s fashion image turns a decided hue of indigo, we felt it was time to highlight a great new company that’s emerging out of the city. Atelier de l’Armée (“Army Workshop”) is a progressive company offering beautifully handcrafted bags and Men’s heritage clothing. Founders Joost Doeswijk and Elza Wandler began the company through their mutual love of vintage materials and their dedication to denim. Founded just over a year ago, the company is already gaining traction across Europe and the States with international buyers snapping up orders on their unique heritage-inspired bags.
Each Atelier de l’Armée bag is handcrafted out of their small workshop in Amsterdam using mostly recycled military fabrics and deadstock selvedge denims and leathers. The pair prides themselves on their “built to last” philosophy — using these tough, rugged fabrics that have retained their strength and aged beautifully over time. Each bag is unique (and individually numbered), in part due to the natural aging process of the materials and also as a result of repairs, stamps, and the knocks and scrapes achieved through extensive use. Joost and Elza explain on their website that while the bags retain their own sense of history, they become even more distinct over time. One of our favorites is bag141 created out of seven shades of deadstock Japanese selvedge denims and highlighted with French army leather rifle sling handles.
The second part of the site is a vintage webshop, which houses a selection of heritage clothing that has been carefully selected by the pair. All are denim related or inspired by vintage workwear and military clothes. From vintage American workwear to Japanese kimonos or Dutch military garb, each of the rare handpicked items are mostly collectables and from the couple’s personal collections that they have gathered over the years. Some have been customized, others have been adjusted, but most are untouched. With pages of rare items and valuable collectables for sale as well as an incredible archive of must-see designs (all lavishly shot), we truly recommend this site to fashion designers, stylists, and denim aficionados alike. We got in touch with the pair for a conversation on all things denim:
Atelier de la Armée prides itself on its use of vintage materials. What drove the inspiration behind this?
We both have a passion for old materials that have aged naturally or materials that have the ability to age beautifully over the years. We like to source and try to find deadstock or old materials and re-introduce them to the world.
What got you hooked on collecting vintage workwear and military clothes?
We both worked for major denim brands where we learned to appreciate the functionality of the details used on workwear and military clothing. Every single pocket or detail used has a function, which is very inspirational. With our background in fabric research, we noticed that the fabrics used on these clothes are amazing, they are build to last a lifetime! Every single workwear or military jacket was created with a specific function.
You work a lot with raw denim fabrics on your bags. What is it that you most like about using the fabric?
We use whatever we can get our hands on, but we are suckers for raw denims and natural tanned leather because they will create their own story once they are worn. These materials age beautifully over time and they get very personal, meaning that the wearer will create a unique item. Our latest concept is to mix different shades of dead-stock Japanese selvage denims to show the different ways of aging.
Can you tell us about the other recycled fabrics you use and what qualities they have that makes you favor them over newer materials?
We mostly use old military duffel, transport or kit bags, and army tents. These heavy cotton canvasses are very thick and durable. These materials are used to the fullest; they have stamps, repairs, stains, patches, and are naturally aged. A look that can never be achieved by using new materials.
You offer both Japanese and American vintage denim on your site. What excites you about them?
We find the Japanese indigo fabrics from the early 20th-century romantic, because of all the love, the repairs, the patched boro details. Americans inspire us more for their thorough way of using denims; they created jeans to endure.
What have been your favorite denim pieces that have passed through your hands over the years?
Elza: That must be the Japanese Kimono I found from the 1920s with beautiful repairs and patches.
Joost: When I was traveling, I only brought one pair of denim, which I wore down completely. I did repair after repair and placed patch over patch. This jean is my favorite piece because it shows my personal history.
Where’s your favorite places to to shop for vintage in Amsterdam?
There are lots of places to find vintage in Amsterdam, although none of them are any good for workwear or military stuff. If you are lucky you can find something on the Waterlooplein or Noordermarket, but the price would be outrageous! We have other sources outside of Amsterdam and mostly outside of the Netherlands. There is only one place to do a rare find in Amsterdam and that is on the monthly ij-hallen market.
What can we expect from the brand over the next few years? Do you hope to expand into apparel?
Our concept can be amended on anything, from interior to apparel. We have a lots of plans. The next step would be adding Women’s vintage on the web-shop. This will be introduced this summer.
But we also play with the idea of developing an apparel collecting in the future. We will see where it goes; the important thing is that we will always stay true to our original roots, which is beautifully crafted goods made with passion.
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