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A Fashion Peep Show in a town with lots of experience in titillating the senses

Prostitutes and fashion designers: “They have more in common than you might think," says Mariette Hoitink, the initiator of Redlight Fashion.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 17-09-2008

Exactly how the city of Amsterdam plans to carry out their so-called clean up of the Redlight district is still not clear. Until final decisions are made, seventeen fashion designers have been given space at reduced rates to set up studios in the notoriously seedy neighbourhood.

Last week, as part of FreeDesigndom, the Redlight Fashion Peepshow was staged. The evening offered a peep into the behind-the-scenes world of the participating designers; a cheeky offering and response to the onslaught of media curiosity that has existed since the project begun.

The show started at sundown. As the crowds gathered, the windows of all the shops housing designers remained black. The drama came from the contrast between the darkened designer’s windows and the brightly lit neighbouring windows where ladies clad in next-to-nothing posed and preened as normal.

Then, the lights of the shop windows lit up to reveal live models styled in the designer’s latest garb. But it was only a peep show, so after just a few seconds the windows were black again and the crowds were left curious for more.

The designers also put together films depicting their inspirations and experiences. These played at a former gambling den, Mata Hari on screens mounted on the same white tiled walls that decorate the region's brothels.

“The response has been fantastic, “ says Mariette Hoitink, the initiator of Redlight Fashion Amsterdam. “It has been great for these designers to be able to reach so many people because in a usual fashion show, you are only ever appealing to the in-crowd.”

The Redlight backdrop is a public relation's dream that has provided these designers with some enviable media coverage, but the projects reach is more ambitious than just that.

“It’s more than just a trend,” says Hoitink. “The location makes sense. Designers are not like ordinary people. They are creative, they work through the night, and they aren’t judgmental. They draw inspiration from everywhere … I think the people who work in this neighbourhood have more in common than you might think."

And the fashion business is tough. Redlight Fashion Amsterdam is also helping the designers with their business strategies. "Sure, they are getting a lot of attention right now," says Hoitink, "but at the end they all have to provide the substance and it has to be good enough to last.”

…. and Beyond, Jan Taminiau, Edwin Oudshoorn and Bas Kosters were some of the stand-out peep shows of the evening. “Redlight Fashion has given us more exposure,” says Jolanda van den Broek who together with Brigitte Hendrix make up …. and Beyond. “But we do feel that we were on this trajectory anyway and at the end of it all our designs have to sell.”

Hoitink remains as unsure as anyone about what the government plans next for the Redlight district. “Fashion has never really been on their agenda so it’s impossible to tell if they will keep this,” she says. “And it doesn’t help that these properties are worth millions. The designers could never afford to work in these spaces under a free market.”

Shops housing the designers are not licensed for sales but creations can be purchased from the local Code Gallery Store.

Images: index page … and Beyond, from top of this page: Jan Taminiau, Redlight fashion film exhibition at Mata Hari, Bas Kosters and Edwin Oudshoorn

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