Inside a fashion designer’s mind: Gianni Antonia (Profile Series)
The building’s entrance is a glass cube stuck in the middle of an orange bricked wall. Across the bricks’ surface, spray painted in imposing white lettering, it says De Wasserij.
De Wasserij is an old hospital laundry facility redesigned to offer working spaces to innovative fashion designers. Each fashion designer inside those orange bricked walls is attempting to revolutionize something that annually generates three trillion dollars world wide, each of these designers has a specific skill, approach or philosophy, and they’re all trying to change the fashion industry – one garment at a time.
One of the designers inside De Wasserij is Gianni Antonia, a twenty-four year old creative from The Netherlands. Gianni studied at Central Saint Martin, worked with big brands like KLM, Hema, ABN AMRO and Unilever. He lived in Antwerp, where he worked closely with Snapchat creating filters for their stories. Then, after a couple years away from home, he returned to Rotterdam to take up a residency at De Wasserij. But his accolades aren’t what help him on his unique quest to find a way to mix sustainability and technology with the ever growing fashion industry. What sets him apart from the big brands is his drive, grit and customer based approach.
He greets me at the entrance of the Wasserij wearing cargo pants and a colored sweater. The pants are black and have an exorbitant amount of pockets, it’s covered in a glossy varnish which makes the material seem like rubber. He’s wearing a facemask which I can only describe as ”a thing which someone who knows his stuff about clothing would wear.” The outfit is topped off with a big afro and stylish glasses. If I would try to describe his style as accurately as possible it would be, well, fashion.
After finishing a smoke he takes me to his atelier. The room is somewhere in the back of the building, shouldered by other designers who are working on their own garments. There is something about having an atelier in the back of a building. It’s like you’re walking to the office of the chief, a big man, a baller. As we walk towards the back of the building people greet Gianni. All of the artists who took a residency here are constantly tinkering on thier clothes. The amount of handmovements one could notice by spending a day inside De Wasserij’s walls would be simillar to watching a high end poker tournament; only without the poker and without the gambling. These artists seem to know exactly what they are trying to achieve.
De Wasserij is a very bright building with high ceilings and colourful atelier. The brightness of the building mixed with the old and gritty feel must add to each artist’s consciousness.
Gianni takes me into his atelier and offers me a cup of tea. His tea is neatly organized in tin pots inside of an Ikea trolly. He rolls the trolly towards the desk and asks me what kind of tea I drink. I’m usually a black tea drinker but the open space and the sketches on the walls said green tea for some reason. Eventhough the atelier was big and much of the creative process is messy and chaotic there was an aura of zen inside ”his” space. All the markers were colour-coded, his sketches were duct taped on the walls carefully curating the process of his creativity.
Which makes sense after you find out he took up a curator of art position for the Boijmans museum in Rotterdam not too long ago. With a clothing brand – most recently opening a collection of sustainable denim in collaboration with de Bijenkorf, supporting local artists with expositions and his recent position as a curator for the museum Gianni is definetly a busy guy. But what makes a guy like that tick? What urges him to move like a beautiful maniac through life of artistry? I suppose it all has to do with his background
‘So it’s more expressive, it’s a piece of art.’Gianni Antonia on the point of his algorithmic fashion
Before he found fashion Gianni had been searching for the right form to express his creativity. He dabbled in photography, did graphic design for a while, worked on and off with big brands and small ones. For years he had been uneasily swaying back and forth between different creative mediums until he, eventually, found fashion.
‘Three years ago, I started doing textiles. It kind of gave me a new purpose.’ Gianni says while looking around his atelier. His pupils become large when he focuses on one of the dresses fitted to his mannequins. The mannequin is a prototype, its unfinished, it has cube patterned sleeves and a turtleneck. The bottom rim is embroidered with stitching in the form of small flowers, on the top – the chest and belly – there are also flowers, although these look are different from the others. He goes on to explain that the flowers are made through his algorithm.
Gianni has written an algorithm to which he can upload information about it’s wearer. The way he gets this information is through an interview, or as I would call ”an extended personal conversation.” Depending on what he needs to make he asks his clients some questions. If he needs to make a gown for a wedding the questions are obviously aimed at what the bride, or groom – can’t forget about them, would like the dress to say about them. If he’s asked to make babyblankets he’ll ask the mom if they have a message for their child. This way his garments are uniquely designed for each of his clients. He uploads the most precious information from his conversations to his algorithm which then does a lot of Mambo Jumbo Magic and creates a pattern to be printed on the piece of clothing.
When I write unique I mean unique. There are thousands of combinations for the patterns. The leaves could be long if the client likes long winters, or stubby if the client says she likes to enjoy a glass of red wine on the peaks of the Alps. The possibilities are endless.
At first glance these designs look fashionable and funky. Recently he made a series of baby blankets for expecting mothers. From the pictures below you can see that the blankets are colourful and spotty. The patterns are inspired by art by Gustav Klimt an Austrian painter who was a prominent figure during the symbolist movement in the late 1800s. The reason why Gianni used Klimt as an inspiration is because there was a hidden expressionism in his art, one that he recreates through his algorithms. After interviewing he would ask them ‘to write a letter to their future child, and I then visually translated that into the baby blankets.’
But that’s not where the story ends. After having printed these patterns onto the blankets some magic starts to happen. Don’t ask me how it works, I have trouble unlocking my phone. Anyway, after the printing is done there is a hidden code inside the blankets. When using a camera, with internet connection, a link will pop up on your phone. If you click on the link the story of the client will show up on your screen. The letters these expecting mothers wrote to their unborn child will be splaid out on your handheld device in NEON.
It was difficult to understand how the technics behind this works so I asked Gianni ‘How does this look? Do you have these things where you scan a QR code in a restaurant and then all of a sudden the menu pops up?’
‘You can definitely see it as a QR code. But like a QR code developed into a kind of pattern. It’s more, it’s more expressive, it’s a piece of art.’ The fashion items are meant to resemble the art of that person’s life. Each garment that goes through his algorithm is unique, colourful and in the end highly personal. Through this method Gianni is trying to make fashion items that last. By making things that people see as a part of their own he hopes that people will keep these items forever.
Gianni explains how each item has a narrative element to it. He hopes that when a mother gives the blanket to their child the child can scan the blanket and that way they’ll learn something about their loved ones.
The Bijenkorf Collection
On the 1st of Febuary 2022, Gianni’s brand Cypherloom launched a collection with the Bijenkorf. The collection is made from repurposed denim and is meant to signify a move towards sustainability. Gianni and his Wasserij compatriots were hired by De Bijenkorf to create a collection from denim materials which had suffered water damage.
It took his team months to put the garments together but eventually they hit their deadline. The reason why he colaborated with Bijenkorf is because the luxury design store is trying to make a shift in their philosophy. Moving from high end fashion wear which wasn’t always too ecofriendly or inovative to a more inclusive and long lasting brand of stores. And De Wasserij’s residents were perfectly suited to create these items based on sustainability and technology.
Gianni’s involvement can be found in a lot of different areas of the project. Eventhough he’s not the greatest stitcher and is still learning how to sow he did involve himself with the curating of the project. On his instagram he explains how the garments were developed to show interactive prints that have his characteristic hidden messaging. In the case of the Bijenkorf collection it’s through an instagram filter which allows you to see the sustainability message De Wasserij team and De Bijenkorf have inbedded into the clothes.
Where Inspiration Lies
All the variation in his job is extremely exhausting. How does he keep up his work ethic when he’s got more deadlines then time? He says a lot of it is due to his friends and determination. But seeing how he was I’d argue it has more to do with his inspiration.
The way he looks through his atelier and the open files of hundreds of logo designs say something about how truly inspired the guy is to create something unique, all the time, every time. The space of a person says a lot about how they carry themselves through their lives, and in Gianni’s case you can see it’s through a heap of inspiration, with a hint of compulsively organizing things.
Where does that inspiration come from I asked?
‘I draw a lot of inspiration from my tour in Morocco, where this leader of a tribe told me that the women of the tribe made tapestries and he explained all the symbols to me.’ All these tapestries were made to show the identity of the tribe. Who the women were, how the men hunted, how they wondered about the desert. This Moroccan tribe uses the materials they have at their disposal to document their lives. ‘And for me, in my case, I’m trying to use this kind of technique or emotional value and incorporate it with fashion. Which I think is something we’ve lost in today’s world.’
An inspired designer is nothing without a enviroment that supports him. ‘There’s a lot of fashion designers here. Do you communicate with them?’ I ask while he’s pouring another cup of tea.
He nods then carefully puts down the pot. ‘I came here and was welcomed very well. Just walking into their spaces, having a chat, asking them how this pattern is supposed to work or asking them tips for buying a sewing machine.’ He looks out the hall as someone hastily walks from one room to another. ‘Sharing information, I think that’s the most important thing.’
All of that brings it back to the core of why he loves fashion so much. To him fashion is a communal thing, its not something you do on your own. In order to wear fashion you have to be reflected in your identity; that’s what his fashion shows.
Gianni’s space is dominated by the people he has collaborated with. Each picture is framed with a focus on the person, not the thing the person is wearing – eventhough that is still slightly important. It does need to look ”guuddd.” The faces of his clients are central to the picture. That’s the thing that matters, that’s why he uses algorithms to tell the story of the wearer. Because with modern technology he has the ability to relay that story into a piece of clothing.
In a market heavily saturated with quick – new – fashion mainly focused on earning money there is a void in the market which Gianni intends to fill. A void that seeks to fill a deeper human connection. And bring back that human element to fashion. Granted there needs to be a certain level of financial compensation to his work he knows this. Although, if he could do his work without earning a cent he would. Gianni’s goal is not to create something cool you get off the rack and discard after wearing it a couple times. No. His goal is to create a piece of clothing that is connected to the wearer. Something they wouldn’t just throw away. He’s trying to algorithmically innovate fashion back to humanity.
© Gianni Antoinia and Cypherloom