Peter Leferink on Future Generation: "Designers have to be innovative and visionary"

Future Generation seeks out perspectives on the future of fashion and society spoke with Peter Leferink, initiator, producer and curator for Future Generation. On Thursday, 26 January, Future Generation will open the upcoming edition of Mercedes-Benz FashionWeek Amsterdam. "It was born out of my growing difficulty with the fashion system." 

Peter, Future Generation has been your project for several editions of MBFWA now. How did it come about? What's the idea behind it?

"Future Generation was born out of my growing difficulty with the fashion system as we experience – and make – it now. In my work as a Professor of Fashion & Design at AMFI, I started to wonder about the fact that we have eight fashion academies in the Netherlands where we have students make collections and a lovely book to go with them, but after that, they’ve got to go out and find their own jobs. There are too many people, too few jobs and, most importantly, fashion is so very polluting. I just couldn't justify it anymore. And at the same time, so much is happening – you don't think too much about it, obviously, it's just in the air – and we're seeing the steady rise of technology in fashion. We've started training our students in virtual design. That piece of it has grown into something they can graduate in at our academy. Then I'm also on the Mercedes-Benz FashionWeek Amsterdam Board of Directors, and the question came up at every edition: are we doing enough around innovation? Is just doing a runway show really keeping up with the times? The result was that MBFWA asked me if I'd like to come up with a format to give designers more freedom, to place more emphasis on other, newer visions and create more freedom around on- and off-the-runway presentation (for example in the form of a talk show, virtual experience or performance), as long as the idea is still that the presenting designer is adding something to fashion or the fashion industry. There has to be some kind of need." 

"Fashion is like a metaphor for what's happening in society, for what we can expect in the future"

What do you mean by a need, exactly?

"I also have that with my students a bit: there has to be a need for their work. It doesn't matter whether that’s around sustainability or it means they're going to use technology to innovate and pursue new things or they want to make a political statement, but it has to be there. Future Generation designers have to be innovative and visionary. Fashion is like a metaphor for what's happening in society, for what we can expect in the future, but it's also a bit empty. Just look at top designers who take new jobs for ten million, it's extremely money driven… there's very little emotion anymore." 

So can I take from that that you're somewhat in agreement with Li Edelkoort's Anti-Fashion Statement: 'fashion as we know it doesn't exist anymore'?

"I definitely agree with Li Edelkoort's Anti-Fashion Statement, except for the part where she says that we treat our students like princes and princesses, because we certainly don't do that in the Netherlands. Fashion education here is extremely divers and comes from a passion for education. There are many differences, but we're not just training people to give runway shows. Plus, using aesthetics to add something to someone's life is a necessity, too." 

"Using aesthetics to add something to someone's life is a necessity, too"

So aesthetics and necessity are fixed elements within Future Generation, but when it comes to interpretation, what is the biggest difference between this edition and the last?

"Last year, we were really focused on technology. In the last edition, we expounded on what an AMFI alum (Amber Slooten, ed.) had already done. Her idea enabled us to depict how, in the future, we're going to experience clothing differently. That was our intention. The hard part is that there's still so much to explain around it, so for people who aren't as steeped in technology, it's a bridge too far. True fashion people still want something tactile. Which brings me to conveying the emotion that's what fashion really is. Someone said to me last week, 'I don't understand why fashion is so underappreciated, because it's closer to you than your own relationship. It's always there.' From a technical standpoint, it was a successful project, but the challenge of connecting technology to emotion still remains. Younger generations are so engaged with technology that they have a lot of social issues. There's too little 'real' contact. And pointing that out unleashes a whole flood of emotions. For me, that meant that there was a greater need to get back to emotion with this edition of Future Generation. How can we convey a story? My first goal for this interpretation was that I wanted a lot of designers who prefer to do something together, not so much solo artists. That's how I came across Martan, a duo, and Das Leben am Haverkamp, a quartet. The story I want to tell with this edition is the story of collaboration and togetherness, for young designers but also from a societal perspective. The foundation is this kind of hippie-esque, give peace a chance statement, particularly for our closing piece, The Painting." 

"It's important to be able to say, 'this is our statement, this is what we're opening with'"

Instead of closing MBFWA with Future Generation, this time it's the prelude. What do you think of that?

"I really enjoyed selecting designers based on a vision of what could be changed – to the extent that that has to do with emotion and experience rather than a business model – and then MBFWA asked me to create an opening out of it. For this edition, that's spot on, it's what it's all about. This is a story that has to be told and, in that sense, I think it's wonderful to kick off MBFWA with Future Generation instead of closing it. These are designers who have a new vision and, in my opinion, all have the potential to make their mark internationally. And I think that a fashion week like this one serves as a cultural platform, as well. So then it's important to be able to say, 'this is our statement, this is what we're opening with'."

Peter Leferink. Credits: Milan Gino
Peter Leferink. Credits: Milan Gino

What can we expect from The Painting, Future Generation's closing show?

"We're going from the chaos into the light, literally. Without giving too much away, that's how the show is structured, how the soundtrack is structured. We're going to close with something people won't see coming. We're opening all the registers to get people to feel, 'this is the NOW, this is where we are', and at the end it will move towards 'this is where we can go'. The ending, the encore, is what will get people thinking. Everything we do will be focused on the beauty of the clothing." 

You're also a big advocate of sustainability. How are we going to see that addressed in The Painting?

"Most of all, I'm a passionate supporter of the view that we can use fashion to change things and make the world a better place. The sustainable idea in The Painting is that you contribute to a healthier world. It's almost holistic. From an aesthetic point of view, that's teaching consumers the beauty of craftsmanship – demonstrating the difference between a hand-sewn hemline and one that’s machine made – so that people start to cherish that and spend five or six years wearing a garment instead of a half a year or even a couple of months. I'm really against fast fashion and I think that designers can play a major role in educating the consumer. All the designers we've selected for The Painting are approaching sustainability from a different angle. For Marlou and Sunanda, it's really about craft. Liesbeth Sterkenburg is more politically motivated. Johannes Offerhaus works with technology in clothes – from an aesthetic perspective, first and foremost – but also with innovations around how we wear and experience clothes." 

"Most of all, I'm a passionate supporter of the view that we can use fashion to change things and make the world a better place"

Why call it The Painting?

"It was driven by the idea that we're so busy with tomorrow, so much so that we often forget to enjoy today. But we actually don't have any answers for the question, 'what's tomorrow going to be like?'. It's an uncertainty that's also quite beautiful, because tomorrow is literally a blank page. I think that designers are almost painters who interpret things in their own, visual way, which is how I came up with The Painting." 

"Tomorrow is literally a blank page"

So it doesn't have anything to do with a tableau vivant?

"At the end of the day, it is a tableau vivant… after they've finished their choreography, all the models, 30 in total, take their place in the background. The final image will be something like that of a Dutch Master, but then all in white, once again as a symbol of cohesion and connection." 

Have you been preparing for quite a while now?

"The idea always comes quickly. Right after the last edition, I thought, 'I have to do something with white and I have to do something that goes back to emotion, but how?' Then comes all of the organising, and that's a lot of work. If you add it all up in days, it takes about a month. And that's in addition to my other work at AMFI, plus I'm an advisor for a number of designers." 

What is your process, from idea to execution?

"At first I really keep it to myself because I think that no one's going to understand it or like it. The crux of the creative process is that you have to get outside a bit and make it more concrete. We work with multiple players and they need you to express your idea. Then it's really nice to bring a clear story to the table." 

Opening night of Mercedes-Benz FashionWeek Amsterdam will begin at 18:30. The programme is entirely devoted to Future Generation and will close off with The Painting. Future Generation is by invitation only, but you can follow its progress at