With the aim of realizing its mission to unleash the potential of up-and-coming creative minds through its incubator program, LIGNES DE FUITE has introduced the "Words of Advice" interview series. This ongoing series brings together promising talents nurtured by the program and influential figures from diverse industries, providing a platform for in-depth discussions on strategies for success within their respective fields. In a recent installment, the renowned Belgian textile creator Daniel Henry engages in a captivating Q&A session with the aspiring fashion designer William Crosson. This dynamic conversation occurred at the Centre Design et Impression Textile and delved into the distinctions between the fashion scenes in Montreal and Antwerp.
William Crosson: I’d like to start off by gaining some insight into how you started your career, specifically, how did you start your own design studio?
Daniel Henry: I started fashion design at La Cambre in Brussels but I quickly realized that I was more interested by the materials than the shape. When I was in second year, I decided to change and go into the textile department. That is why my textile work has always been connected to the body and very inspired by the movement and the transparency. I did the first year in fashion and then four years in textiles, studying weaving, knitting, printing and finishings but specialized in printing and finishing. That's mostly what I do today.
At the end of each year we had a jury for the examination. When I was in 4th year (now called Master One) there was a lady that was invited to be on the jury specifically because she would be interested in my work. It’s a very small school, there are not many students, and the teachers try to invite people that will be interested in your work. At that time, I was developing a more conceptual work about linen. This was about 20 years ago. I was trying to introduce linen into winter collections because we know it as a summer fiber.
I would work on the knitting part of the linen and 20 years ago that was really unusual. Today it's quite normal to see linen jersey, but 20 years ago it was not.
They invited this lady from CELC in Paris, which is the European Confederation of Linen and Hemp. It's kind of like Woolmark for linen. At the end of the jury she said she really liked my work and she said “I have a job for you.” It was in June and she said you can start in July but you need to be a freelancer. She knew that I had one more year of school to complete. She said, that's fine, you can work part-time for me. It was a two-year contract. So I said okay. I was supposed to go on an internship at McQueen that summer.
I had to decide to either get the job with the CELC or lose a lot of money in London. So I took the CELC job and I started my freelance status at that time. My transition between school and professional work was very fluid. I started my studio one year before my graduation almost 22 years ago.
I feel like that’s a rare experience coming out of school and immediately picking up this freelance work. But why textiles? You were studying fashion for a year— however, after your first year you decided to focus on textiles. At an institutional level is there a way for you to transition into studying textiles and are there specific programs at an undergrad level in Europe that made this transition easy for you?
To reply to the first question, when you were a student in La Cambre during the first three years (today called the BA) we had to do two mandatory internships inside of the school in different departments. When I was in the second year of fashion, I decided to do my internship in textiles. It was a knitting course and on the first day with the knitting machine I just knew it was my place. So the following week I switched. They did not have to accept me in the textile program and could have insisted that I go back to first year. However they allowed me to enter the second year of the textiles program after they looked at my work.
What is your connection to the Centre Design et Impression Textile (CDIT) here in Montreal?
It’s a long story. My printing teacher is a friend of Monique Beauregard, the former director. After my graduation, I became an assistant to my teacher. The following summer my teacher was coming to Montreal to give a workshop, but she had some kind of health problems, so she asked me to come with her. That was my very first connection—I think it was in 2002. I fell in love with Quebec and especially the people. I came back to Quebec maybe seven or eight times for workshops. I also have a very good connection with the Biennale internationale du lin in Portneuf, so I come quite often for one reason or another.
You’ve been coming to Montreal for quite a while then, and it seems as though you’re pretty familiar with the city. Do you see any parallels between the fashion scene here and the fashion scene in a place like Belgium or more specifically Antwerp?
To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like I’m part of the fashion scene. Fashion is really about fashion designers. People from textile, even someone like me who is very connected to fashion in my work, I’m not so connected with the fashion people.
I don’t know.
In Belgium or in Paris they never accepted me as a member of the fashion community. That’s just the way it is—I am OK with it. So I don’t really know what’s happening.
I would like show you some of my work if we could?
Yes of course!
A lot of my work revolves around Canadiana and the Canadian identity. So often we see Canada and America being lumped into one entity, whereas I feel like that’s not the reality. It’s interesting because especially in Quebec there is such a strong national identity. But I’m not from Quebec, I’m from Ontario. So it feels like, at least in those spaces, there’s not quite as much of a separation or cultural identity. I think a lot of my work focuses on that and is carried out by taking elements that we see every day, almost mundane elements and elevating them through the craft. Going back to the idea that Canada and America are seen as a homogenous culture through globalization, and through a shared history, do you think there’s a comparison to be made between a homogenous world view of North America and a homogenous world view of Europe? Or do you feel like there’s still a distinct separation between an industry like the textile industry in the UK versus France versus Belgium versus Italy?
I think every one of those the fashion capitals have their own identity that is really strong. I work mostly with French brands. Creativity is different in all of those countries.
If you look at the fashion in Italy for me it’s more focused on colors and also patterns, but not always.
If you look in the UK there are some really eccentric looks, but in the same collection there are always some very commercial looks.
Belgium is where I come from so it’s a much younger fashion capital. And we all know about the Antwerp Six, and for me, even if that was not really long ago, because it’s like 40 years ago.
I feel that today there are two directions in young creation and innovation in Belgium. There is the more conceptual and minimalistic fashion like Martin Margiela, Raf Simons, Ann Demeulemeester, and so on. On the other side, there is the more fun fashion like Walter van Beirendonck, Bernhard Willhelm, and Jean-Paul Lespagnard. 40 years ago it was really free because there was no past in fashion. Now that there is the strong Antwerp Six there is now two styles that we have to follow. So the sense of freedom is not the same anymore. In 40 years fashion has changed a lot. When I was a student in the 90’s the fashion was really artistic. Today it is so much about business. Before, business was really in America, for example, in New York. Nowadays we see a big difference between even Los Angeles and New York. Montreal, I don’t know so much.
Images Connory Ballantyne Daniel Henry and William Crosson Transcript William Crosson Editing Gio Cacci
Follow the link below to RSVP to our upcoming Drink&Draw and see you soon!
Take a look at our upcoming short courses and workshops.
Originally published in LIGNES DE FUITE vol.3