Ami-e-toi Fashion shopArnhem 2009
Glamour deserves a second chance
The shop interior has an extravagant and luxurious look; the fashion is inspired by the somewhat decadent world of art deco. But appearances can be deceptive. Ami-e-toi is the Dutch clothing label of Mode Met een Missie (Fashion with a mission), a foundation dedicated to helping vulnerable women and allowing them to rediscover their self-respect. The dual layers of the interior design reflect this ambition.
The new Ami-e-toi shop in Arnhem exudes an unmistakably luxurious style, with oak parquet flooring, marble, a golden shop counter with busts, and cameos on the wall. Everything is designed in black with golden hints and faded accents in sepia and celadon green. It is the glamour style of the 1920s and 1930s, a period full of expectation in which the avant-garde flourished in art and culture. Consider Bauhaus, Picasso, the stirring compositions of Gershwin and the haute couture of Lanvin, as well as the frivolous Charleston, the Winter Olympics in Chamonix and the advent of the aeroplane: icons that represented a new and exciting era. Traditional craftsmanship developed into industrial design; the warm luxury of the _ boudoir _melted into New Objectivity.
Meeting of contrasts
This turning point in history also characterises the fashion label Ami-e-toi. Designed by young Dutch fashion designers, including Claes Iversen, the style can best be described as simple elegance. The collection is characterised by the modern interpretation of old forms, the incorporation of vintage materials such as velvet and the use of second-hand details such as antique buttons.
We find the same meeting of contrasts in the interior, designed by the Dutch interior designer Maurice Mentjens. The straight lines of the concrete construction are softened by loosely hanging net curtains, shiny objects and two enormous mirror walls. As the long clothes rack is clamped between the mirrors at right angles, the mirror images are doubled. The collection is endlessly repeated, in all its glory and attractiveness; the ultimate fata morgana for the true fashionista. Mode Met een Missie (Fashion with a mission)
Yet nothing here is what it seems. The image of the spoilt fashionista is in stark contrast with the women who make the Ami-e-toi clothing. This is because the fashion label is run by Stichting Mode Met een Missie (the Fashion with a Mission foundation). Its (female) employees have often experienced the more negative sides of life and of society. This foundation gives them new opportunities to develop themselves. The name of the collection is a reference to the French for “my friend and I”. It is meant as a message that nothing and no-one exists in isolation and that we are all connected with other people. Many women rediscover their self-respect through their work in the ateliers. Personal growth enables them to build a new life.
Armed with this background knowledge, the dual layers of the interior design become clear. The hidden message of “a second chance” is incorporated into all the details, reflecting Mentjens’ fascination with symbolism. “The wall of mirrors is not a fata morgana but the illusion of the ‘fashion addict’. It is a hallucination from Vanitas Vanitatum – ‘Vanity of Vanities’. The chandelier made of cut glass and attached to the mirror wall is intended as a piece of pop art, with its chalice form a reference to the Holy Grail. In the world of philosophy, the Holy Grail is often defined as the spiritual search for one’s true self, in which mind, body and soul ultimately come together. The same paradigm is incorporated into the monumental semi-circular table. Only through reflection and acceptance of the self-image does the whole entity emerge. This is a beautiful metaphor with the same significance for both the ‘fashion victims’ and the women working in the ateliers.”
A mirror is also literally held up to visitors in the decadent, heavily padded changing rooms. Those who look closely will see a Dutch translation of the famous magic words from the fairytale Snow White in the golden mirror frame: ‘Spiegeltje, spiegeltje aan de wand, wie is de schoonste in het ganse land?’ (Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is fairest of all?) Many women in the ateliers have seen life on the other side of the mirror. They have seen that appearances can be deceptive – all that glistens is not gold. The mirror therefore represented one’s own conscience. The oval shape is seen again in the cameos, in which the silhouettes of a number of women have been immortalised in tribute to them. The female silhouette is also the logo of Ami-e-toi.
The interior and the fashion collection are thus brought together in harmony; two concepts that at first glance seem to illustrate the transience and the illusion of the world of fashion. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The unique history of every woman who has worked within Ami-e-toi has been translated into symbolism expressing the yearning for a better world. This is seen in the Holy Grail and in the vintage details decorating every item of clothing: The visualisation of the conviction that everyone deserves a second chance.