Stephan Schneider’s collections aim to dress the customer in a highly personal, recognizable way. Schneider uses the same fabrics for mens and womenswear, giving her an austere and him a more gentle character. Decorative elements can be found in the collections in a reduced and structured way that balances between nostalgia and reality. Since 1994, the German-born designer has presented his men’s and women’s collections at Paris Fashion Week. The company has grown season by season with currently more than 70 points of sale world-wide. In April 1996 the first European flagship store opened in Antwerp. His men’s collection is available at Notre in Chicago.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Brought up in a wonderful family in Germany I moved to Belgium after high school to study at the Royal Academy in Antwerp. I was fascinated by the Antwerp Six, who made me discover of an alternative view on fashion which had nothing to do with luxury or glamour, but was more a reaction to the reality, a youth culture.
I started business directly with my graduation collection. Season by season the collection grew in a natural way, mens and ladies right from the beginning. As I wanted the garments to be worn I opened my own store two years later, right in the historic center of Antwerp.
How has living in Antwerp affected your work? Antwerp is first of all a very quiet and authentic city. As a designer you can concentrate on your work while having a high quality of life.
Because there is not a lot to do you don’t get the feeling that you are missing out on anything while working in the studio… this environment makes it possible to focus your energy on the collection and not on trying to convince investors or sponsors. I can work completely independently without having to make compromises in my design. At the same time Antwerp is right in the center of Europe: just an hour and a half to Paris, where I present my collection four times a year.
What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? I have a fascination for the visual mass around me… mass consumption, mass communication, mass entertainment…
As a fashion designer I aim for individuality and uniqueness. But at the same time I am surrounded by replaceable images from the big fashion conglomerates and their repetitive marketing campaigns. This contradiction stimulates me to keep a very personal and intimate design language. I want my garments to look simple and effortless as a reaction to the multibillion dollar luxury industry. I try to communicate with my collection, my product, so that the actual act of selling a garment is the final step of my design process. Therefore right in the beginning I wanted to have my own store to experience what the real customer is like. Being close to the actual product is very important to me.
What designers are you interested in right now? I am interested in all independent designers that concentrate their energy on creating charming garments and not on creating a brand image.
What past trends in fashion should never come back? The combination deep V neck for men worn with a beanie.
Tell us about your work process and how it develops. In every collection I want to challenge myself to work with a material, or experience a new finishing I’ve never worked with before. It all starts with the design of the structures and patterns of the fabrics, which are exclusively woven and dyed for me at Italian manufacturers. It is a very hard and technical process but once the fabrics come alive in the garments I can see my personal signature. I have worked with some of my weavers since my very first collection.
What’s your absolute favorite place in the world to be? I’ve lived now for more than 25 years in Antwerp, a city with small picturesque streets that barely let the sunshine in. I dream about a second life in L.A. I have been there several times and each time it becomes harder to fly back home.
What were you like in high school? I didn’t enjoy high school and couldn’t wait to leave. I didn’t enjoy being judged by the teachers, that’s why I didn’t explore any artistic studies there. The Academy in Antwerp fully shaped my artistic roots.
Favorite article of clothing? Actually I love all garments from my archive… the older they are, the more precious they become to me. The moment I have no more memories about the trouble to design the fabric, get it delivered on time, get the garment manufactured and delivered I start to like my clothes. And I enjoy imperfection so most of the second choice ends on my body.
Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? Best reaction is when my garments simply are worn… it’s such a stereotype to say that it feels so good to see your garments worn on the street… but it simply is. The worst reaction came from a shop owner who wanted to sue me for an allergic reaction on his crotch… He claimed that the yarn I used to finish the seams of my trousers was polyester and he can only wear silk. Fashion people are known for having a distinctive taste!