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The Gijs+Emmy Spectacle

Gijs Bakker looks back on a groundbreaking show he created in 1967 with Emmy van Leersum. The show is currently revived in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. 

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 27-02-2014

“The show was all about progress. We believed in the malleability of society,” says Gijs Bakker, talking to design.nl about the legendary fashion show he and his partner Emmy van Leersum (1930–1984) created in 1967 in the Amsterdam temple of modern art: the Stedelijk Museum. The “we” refers of course to his generation of artists and intellectuals at the time. “And you have to realize how ugly the world was in those days,” he adds, explaining the pretensions of his generation. 

The Stedelijk Museum has tried to recreate the groundbreaking event in the current exhibition The Gijs+Emmy Spectacle, Fashion and Jewelry design by Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum 1967–1972. There is no surviving footage of the 1967 fashion show. The reconstruction is based on a handful of descriptions from eyewitnesses, scores of reviews, and conversations with those involved in the original show, like the models.

The 1967 show “launched Gijs and Emmy as pioneers in their field,” writes Marjan Boot, curator of the exhibition in an explanatory note. “The futuristic garments, large aluminium necklaces, the styling of the models and the fashion show featuring electronic music, spotlights, and rhythmical movements propelled them to the vanguard of youth culture.”

Looking back now Gijs Bakker is struck by the different positions designers have nowadays. “We moved in the same circles as artists, photographers and architects,” he says. “[Renowned] gallery owner Riekje Swart played a crucial role in bringing us together. We all believed in the malleability of society and that within progress everything was possible.  The work of an entire generation was inspired by this belief.

“We looked for imagery that would be clear and understandable for everyone,” Bakker continues. “This clarity you could find everywhere at the time, whether it was the work of choreographer Hans van Manen, graphic designer Wim Crouwel, or us.”

The biggest discovery for him at the time was creating the so-called Stovepipe Necklace. “I was looking for the possibility of bending a pipe around a neck,” says Bakker, “and ended up with the simple technology of a stovepipe, the way it is bent. This turned out to be very important in my own development: applying existing techniques and forms.”

That the current era is completely different from the sixties is something that strikes Bakker. “Nowadays we live in a purely individualistic world,” he says.  “Few designers have their heart set on changing the world, as we did back then. Nowadays designers are much more focussed on pleasing their customers. They do their own thing and determine their position on their own. Becoming a star is important these days. Turning oneself into a brand.”  

Having said that Bakker has to acknowledge that “turning oneself into a brand” is exactly what “Gijs & Emmy”, as they called themselves, did way back in 1967.  It is something that curator Marjan Boot concludes of the show – that the pair engaged in personal branding avant-la-lettre.

In conclusion Bakker notes that in the current climate there are of course still designers who are not only focussed on pleasing the user, but who also engage in researching the world around them. “But one does need a searchlight to find them,” he says.

Main image: The current exhibition in the Stedelijk
Left from top:
Model Sonja Bakker during the 1967 show. Photo: Peike Reintjens
Gijs en Emmy in their studio in Amersfoort, photo from serie artist portraits, 1971-1972. Photo: Eva Besnyö
Model Sonja Bakker with stovepipe collier and bracelet, 1967. Photo: Matthijs Schrofer

Model Sonja Bakker, 1967, photo: Peike Reintjens

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