Ninamounah is reviving an unlikely piece of history: something called the Kraplap, a traditional Dutch garment made of stiff, starched cotton that rests on the shoulders to form a type of rectangular breastcloth. While it was once worn by women throughout the Netherlands, the Kraplap fell off somewhere in the 21st century. But it's honestly a strong silhouette and ripe for reinvention (Ninamounah's looks like a tailored suit). Imagine a pop girly like Dua Lipa wearing it or Gigi Hadid or, I don't know, Bad Bunny.
Before bringing a modified Kraplap to the world, Ninamounah spent the past year reflecting on their own Dutch heritage. Of course, this was inevitable under lockdown, with restricted travel and home becoming more accessible inspiration than ever. Designer Ninamounah Langestraat and Brand Director Robin Burggraaf considered ideas of nesting, familiarity and their "most intimate surroundings" to offer a "contemporary take on familiar tropes" for Spring 2021.
Having looked at the past, the label is now interested in presenting a more optimistic path forward. "Born from a moment of stillness and reassessment, our new collection comes from a feeling of hope for a bright new future," Ninamounah describes in a release, referencing "deadstock materials" to design "recalibrated signature silhouettes." While Spring 2021 is nostalgic for old Dutch costuming, it's still modern and sexy: Lots of leather, pinstripe suits, one remarkable sweater vest printed with someone's naked butt. (Ninamounah loves sex.)
In the campaign, Ninamounah's models are shown inside hemp fields at HempFlax as "a big wink" to their Dutch background. The label says non-TCH hemp is used to create a plastic replacer material for cars and buildings, so it reflects their own sustainable practices and "is a metaphor for building blocks." The Netherlands is also famous for its weed, with millions of tourists visiting just to get high, though Ninamounah notes that hemp is stronger and needs less water.
Below, PAPER unveils Ninamounah's Spring 2021 campaign, titled The Nest, and asks the label to unpack what they've learned from a year of introspection.
How has your relationship with "familiarity" changed this year, especially under lockdown, and how did that impact these designs?
Ninamounah Langestraat: The nest is a womb, a home, a place to grow and reflect. Build with the materials only from the surrounding. We could choose the materials, but the materials choose us. In the beginning, we started building big clay sculptures as research on what the word "nest" meant to us. Normally we would go to the library to explore, but we were stuck in the studio and I had 140 kilos of clay laying around. So actually we tried everything that was unfamiliar. I also started drumming to get rid of the COVID energy. And because of that I actually think this is the most concentrated collection we ever nurtured.
"The new collection is born out of a reassessment of the familiar."
Robin Burggraaf: I don't think I had a totally unique experience. For me, lockdown meant more focus on what matters most to me. It really pushed me to connect with my strongest passions while also trying out new things, something I never really found the time for before. At the same time we were literally locked up in the studio, surrounded by our archive and research. It was interesting to look back and kind of dissect our journey up till that point. The new collection is born out of a reassessment of the familiar, looking at what still speaks to us and how to rephrase certain thoughts or ideas and adept it into something for now. To bring it back to its essence.
You mentioned you reflected on your heritage and history. What did you learn from this process?
Ninamounah: I am super fascinated by the Dutch farmers. The relationship that the farmers have with their work, their fields or animals is something I admire and I am jealous of. I learned a lot of patience, how to observe deeper. I approved this collection like a field of crops. Letting it grow slowly. The farmers are still working in some ways that the farmers worked 400 years ago. Sometimes a way of working doesn't need to change. It is perfect the way it is. Pure work.
"In the end we see our heritage as a strength, not a weakness."
Robin: Looking at our own archive inspired us to also look back at what our Dutch heritage means to us. It's where we grew up, it's where our creative family started and, while not being able to travel, it's also the place where we spend all our time nowadays. It's a bit of a funny country, often confused with Denmark by Americans. Windmills, wooden shoes. Not particularly known for its fashion industry. But there's a lot of creative talent here, so we're rich in that sense. It was nice to rebel and use Dutch clothing references rather than the old French couturiers. To be proud of our weird small country. In the end we see our heritage as a strength, not a weakness.
Explain more about the hemp fields and their relationship to your Dutch heritage. Why were these a fitting background for the campaign?
Ninamounah: I literally grew up between the weed plants. I believe I even have a picture of my mom, 8 months pregnant, sunbathing naked in our weed garden. People are very opinionated about this plant. I do not smoke it myself, but I find the oil and the smell very special. They bring me back home. It has a healing power. To me, they are like flowers. Now hemp is being grown by old Tulip farmers, another famous plant. Hemp is stronger and needs very little water, not like cotton.
"It's a big fat wink at our Dutch heritage, and highlights the sustainable and innovative side of the plant while subverting associations."
Robin: Netherlands is famous for weed. Millions of tourists come here to visit the coffee shops. You literally get high in a store here. Funny thing is that Dutch people barely smoke it themselves. Hemp actually doesn't contain any THC, the psychoactive ingredient in weed. We shot this campaign at HempFlax. They use hemp to create industrial fibers that are used to create sustainable building blocks. It's a great plastic replacer and can be used to isolate building. We felt it's the perfect match for this project. It's a big fat wink at our Dutch heritage, and highlights the sustainable and innovative side of the plant while subverting associations.
What silhouettes or looks in this campaign would you say are classic Ninamounah, and what are some newer looks? How is this an evolution?
Ninamounah: I would say they are all classics, but they evolve and sometimes back to the beginning with a new approach. A different branch of the evolution line. I really tried to keep the functional farmer lines and melt it together with our pieces. Respecting it, but also bending it.
Robin: It was really about clashing archive pieces with each other. This being our most focussed collection to date, I think you can really feel our signature in each piece. The zipped waists, side paneling and sleeves reference motor suiting, but are used in tailored pieces. We reinterpreted the top worn by Bella Hadid and looked at what that shape would do in a dress, a vest, etc. There's more pieces you will recognize from previous collections, reinterpreted and updated.
"There's more pieces you will recognize from previous collections, reinterpreted and updated."
I love the pieces that dramatize the silhouette off the body — those cropped suit jackets and the waist lines that extend off the hips. How do they fit into all of this?
Ninamounah: Looking at the traditional dutch clothing and their functionality, I really fell in love with the Kraplap. This big square shape is a traditional Dutch breast cloth garment made of stiff, starched cotton. We made our own version of the Kraplap, and throughout the collection we repeated the shape and the cut.
Photography: Woody Bos
Art direction: Ferdi Sibbel
Hair: La Toya Velberg
Makeup: David Koppelaar, Jan Fuite
Models: Nella Roz, Rogier Bosschaart, Jairo Bierling, Mira Meijer
Bodypaint: Julia Kiryanova
Production: Floris Leeuwenberg, Hempflax
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