Fashion Director Jessica Hannan caught up with Jeanne De Kroon, the designer behind the Berlin label Zazi Vintage, to quiz her on her new collection of Afghan-style coats shot
Her Berlin Studio
Jeanne De Kroon’s studio is high above a Turkish bakery in a traditional Berlin Altbau apartment in the city’s vibrant Neukölln area. I arrive on a cold winter day and the colourful beaded dresses and dramatic sheepskin-lined coats are immediately cheering. An animated group of customers are just on their way out, and De Kroon excuses herself to make fresh ginger tea (I had mentioned I was a bit under the weather, so she is making me her special mix). This small but thoughtful gesture encapsulates the quiet empathy of the Dutch ex-model-turned-fashion-designer.
Fast Fashion Nightmares
When the tea is poured, she explains how she started Zazi Vintage.
“I was introduced to a small project in India during my travels. Their daily mission was fighting against high street retailers, such as H&M. When you have heard grown women telling stories about wearing nappies because they are not allowed toilet breaks – you can’t really get over something like that. I knew then that I needed to find a way to contribute towards change.”
The death of empathy ushered in a selfish new mood – where real fur was back on the runway and human rights was off the agenda.
The New Wave of Ethical Designers
My first job in fashion was as an assistant to Tamsin Blanchard on an ethical fashion book called Green is the New Black. It was 2007, and conversations about organic cotton, fair trade and sustainability were hot topics. Unfortunately, the following year the economy crashed and our focus turned inwards. We simply stopped caring. The death of empathy ushered in a selfish new mood – where real fur was back on the runway and human rights was off the agenda.
Almost ten years on, De Kroon is amongst a new wave of creators daring to bring ethical issues back into fashion. She explains her design process: “I work with this amazing power lady called Madhu who has set up an NGO called Institute for Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development (IPHD). IPHD is an organisation addressing all the challenges that women face in the rural areas of India. Madhu works with the women and gives them sustainable projects like sewing Zazi Vintage dresses. She then teaches them how to properly invest their money so they can save and slowly lift their families out of poverty.”
Internet trolls accused her of “cultural appropriation” and “failing to really empower women”.
Dealing with Internet Criticism
As a blonde, white designer working with ethnic fabrics, De Kroon has attracted her fair share of internet critics. They often accuse her of “cultural appropriation” or “failing to really empower women”, or the lack of diversity in her lookbooks.
When De Kroon reveals this I can’t help but groan. I have heard similar reports from other ethical designers. It seems the more worthy your cause, the quicker people feel threatened and try to pick at your integrity.
However, as with everything De Kroon (who regularly practices silent meditation and teaches yoga in her spare time), is refreshingly balanced about this issue.
“At first, when I got criticised on Instagram, I would enter into a dialogue with accusers and offer to take it offline and discuss on email. But none of them ever wanted that.” I reassure her that trolls don’t really want to debate, and she agrees. “For me, fashion is an incredible way to connect with people. By wearing a sari blouse in India or a traditional Netela scarf in Ethiopia – I noticed that I took away some of the cultural boundaries and made the identification. It felt as if the connection grew stronger.”
Whether it is with Madhu, the “power lady” from the NGO, one of fashion’s hot new photographers, like Stefan Dotter who shot De Kroon’s latest lookbook, or the girls who come to her apartment to shop; forging connections comes naturally to De Kroon.
Our time is almost up and she has another girl due to arrive at any moment. I spy an ankle-length coat in red and black and lined with sumptuous sheepskin. I enquire about its background while I contemplate a purchase. She tells me passionately: “This one is made from hand-embroidered fabric from Tajikistan and is lined with vintage Mongolian rugs. It is inspired by Afghan design and made by artisans. Each one I sell provides one year of education for a girl in rural India.”
And as one might expect, I am sold.
The coats will be available online at Zazi Vintage from January
Photography: Stefan Dotter
Styling: Holly Ann Ladd
Coats: Zazi Vintage