‘Everyone around the city is just underdressed.’
‘How about Scandinavia then – where a lot of your items are from?’
‘They do dress very decently, but it becomes some sort of uniform you know. It is all very monotone and skinny, which goes without mentioning over there.’
I looked around, the irony lingering in my mind: the whole store is engulfed by contrasting black and white, except for the giant plant sitting right in front of me.
But there is more to Nelleke’s famous SPRMRKT, which has just passed its ten year mark. Even if you were not looking at the clothes, you would be compelled to point out that there is an operating barber’s corner in the shop. A bloke was just getting a trim as we spoke.
Let’s rewind back to last summer: Attracted by the undressed mannequins at the window and the mystery it offered to a pedestrian like me, I casually strolled into SPRMRKT for the first time. And yes, things were already black, grey and white then. Then I saw a man walking towards me – a huge man with long black hair and glasses, and for a moment I thought I’d found Rick Owen’s secret shop in Amsterdam.
Turned out that man was just a customer, and this shop had not much to do with Rick himself – although the shop did carry some Rick Owens DRKSHDW pieces. And the shop founder has to be a big fan of his stuff, I mean the whole taking-out-the-vowel-from-‘supermarket’-to-get-‘sprmrkt’ idea has to give it away. Or the store design itself alone. Or the buying direction in general. Everything is super dark and rock-and-roll.
And Nelleke did not deny that – I went back to Amsterdam in winter and visited the store again. With her naming Rick Owens as one of the inspiration among a few others, I can come to see the design aesthetic of SPRMRKT more clearly. The clean simplicity and the play with materials are very clever indeed: built almost entirely according the founder’s vision, the fixtures – especially the iconic white wooden cupboards – consist of sophistication beyond their monotone disguises.
I guess Rick would have made something like that too. I remember reading him saying interior designs ‘are like clothes, but bigger’: so in many ways, Nelleke’s shop is a massive cape she has personally designed, alongside with her in-store collection SPR+ and Unisex, both also designed by herself.
The collection carried by the shop carries an equally strong character of the founder. Among the menswear corner one can find Diesel Black Gold, Margiela, Rick Owens Drkshdw – many of those so pricy it can lead one to wonder whether one can afford fashion after all. But that is the beauty its shop concept: the collection is put together towards a vision, instead of towards a price range or a certain group of shoppers.
You are offered an opportunity to see beyond a brand name, which could be intimidating to some at times. All you can feel now is the geometry of the garment, the personality behind the tailoring and the will of some designers to experiment and push beyond limits. Lost and Found, Boris Bidjan Saberi and Silent by Damir Doma are all monochromic, organic and playful with materials; but they are also creative in very distinctively different ways.
Nelleke hopes that it would help break down the barrier between everyday shoppers and the fashion that they deem off limits. People are sometimes underdressed because they think they don’t understand fashion. But do you need to? Yes, that Roger Elston blazer is special because there is the element of hidden stitching, but as long as you think it is special, there is no need of fancy jargons. Grace Chatto once said: people often think they need to know about classical music to listen to them, and they are wrong. And Clean Bandit has proved them wrong – in a way, SPRMRKT is making the same point.
I finished the coffee Nelleke offered, thanked her and left the shop. Back out at the freezing cold in the streets of Oud-West, I spent the day wondering whether people will really change.
words and photos by Justin Chan, Razz Fashion Correspondent