Dutch fashion designer Koos van den Akker is featured in ‘Folk Couture, Fashion and Folk Art’, a group exhibition on view from January 21 until April 23 in the American Folk Art Museum. Thirteen established and emerging designers have been invited by the museum to create new designs inspired by artwork in the museum’s collection.
Koos van den Akker (b. 1939, The Hague) was prompted to move to New York because of his fascination with the glamour in American films like How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). “One day I took the boat and I came here. I was 27. And I knew how to make clothes from A to Z,” said van den Akker, who had previously worked for the house of Christian Dior in Paris. For his first American customers, the designer produced a simple shift dress. “I had a portable sewing machine. Then, it was all [André] Courrèges. You could make that style of dress in three, four hours, and so I did.” Since that time, van den Akker has been a prolific designer. “I’m a craftsman. I’m a seamstress. I really sit in front of my sewing machine every day from six in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon and I make clothes.”
Five very different artworks served to inspire the designer’s shimmery, colorful gown: a mid-eighteenth-century schoolgirl crewelwork picture, two portraits of women from the early nineteenth century, a twentieth-century painting of an industrial cityscape, and a contemporary wall hanging constructed of antique and vintage kimonos. Van den Akker collaged images of the artworks into fabric of his own design, which is embellished with transparent sequins. His aim was to translate his notion of folk art into the language of couture. “I think folk art is the fact that I made the gown so it is just me and the doll and the fabric. And I think that is very original,” he said. “I really wanted to show the artworks in the most glamorous way. That’s why I chose the fabric with this shiny finish.”