Out of this World
European designer Gwen van den Eijnde is excited to join the RISD community as an assistant professor of Apparel Design.
Referencing historical fashions from different eras and cultures, newly hired Assistant Professor of Apparel Design Gwen van den Eijnde creates clothing, costumes and accessories that are stunning, timeless and otherworldly. Born in Holland and raised in France, he began inventing his fantastical realities as a student at l'Ecole Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg in France, mixing and morphing seemingly disparate details – Baroque bustles, tribal body paints, Kanzashi hair ornaments from Japan – to create cohesive, head-to-toe looks for his own performance pieces. Van den Eijnde always considers the whole picture while designing the setting, lighting, accessories – and works with top-flight photographers to capture his performances in all their intricate glory.
“I make everything by hand, from the shoes to the hats to the accessories,” says van den Eijnde, “so it takes an enormous amount of time. I’m trying to build mythology into my designs – to take people who see my work on an imaginary journey.”
After completing his studies in France in 2005, van den Eijnde embarked on a journey as a designer that took him to New York, Stuttgart and then Warsaw, where he began teaching in the fashion design department at the Academy of Fine Arts. “There is a fantastic collection of traditional Polish costume at the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw,” he says. “I taught young students who were not really interested at first in dusty folk costumes. But seeing these pieces in the museum was really magical, and as we experimented with old ideas we transformed them into something very new.”
From Poland van den Eijnde moved on to northeastern France – near the Swiss border – where he led the textile design department at HEAR (HauteEcole des Arts du Rhin) Mulhouse from 2013-15. “Teaching textile design forced me to pay closer attention to the materials in my work,” he says. “Whether you work in costumes or fashion, there are so many opportunities to play with the material itself – to weave, dye, embroider, knit...It’s like cooking. You have all these ingredients you can add to your recipes.”
Now that he’s relocating to Providence, van den Eijnde is thrilled to have access to the incredible Costume + Textiles collection at the RISD Museum. “I toured the museum with [Curator] Kate Irvin when I visited campus,” he recalls. “She showed me some wonderful stuff, like 18th-century French textiles. Online photographs are great, but it’s not the same as looking at real garments you can touch and measure.”
Once classes begin in September, van den Eijnde will work with Apparel Design juniors in the Cut and Sew Studio and he is also looking forward to helping seniors produce visual materials for their portfolios that accurately reflect their style. “I’m also thinking about putting together a Wintersession class exploring late fashion designer Charles James,” he says. “His dresses are like moving sculptures. They’re incredible! I believe the RISD Museum has some of his pieces in its collection and maybe even some of his original patterns.”
“It’s always interesting for students to see how they can extract a detail or a lesson from the past or from another culture and incorporate it into their design,” van den Eijnde adds. “I am really impressed by the incredible quality of the student work at RISD and am delighted to join the faculty.”
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