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27.12.2020

THE PEOPLE BEHIND ESSENTIEL ANTWERP

TOM DE POORTERE
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During the holidays, we sat down with our Artistic Director Tom De Poortere, also known as Inge's right hand, to learn more about him, his exciting job and the creative process behind those energetic and colorful clothes we're wearing.
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What does being an "Art Director" exactly entail?

Tom — An Art Director is someone who is responsible for the total visual look of the company. This means that besides designing all the collections with Inge and the team, I also supervise the look and feel of our eshop, social media and all things Essentiel Antwerp. I make sure the Essentiel Antwerp vision is correct and in unison with our values.



When did you first realize you were going to take a path in Fashion?

Tom — I understood from a young age that I was attracted to Fashion. I remember seeing videos on TV from Army Of Lovers and Deee-Lite and I loved the colorful and crazy outfits they wore. It got me researching designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood from a young age of 9 years old. Most probably at that age I must have seen Inge on the TV show 10 om te zien doing backing vocals for The Dinky Toys wearing Walter Van Beirendonck. Actually, music has always been as important as fashion for me and I think they are very much intertwined.

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“Music has always been as important as fashion for me and I think they are very much intertwined.”
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How did you land your job at Essentiel Antwerp?

Tom — I used to work for Nicole Cadine, the mother of Esfan. I was her assistant back in the days, and that's how I got to know Inge and Esfan. After 3 years of working for Nicole, I decided to move on and started working for another company. Some years passed when I got a phone call from Inge saying they were looking for a new designer. The rest is history. I haven't looked back since….



How do you create a collection? What is the process and how long does it take?

Tom — This is such a difficult question. First, we do a lot of procrastination, haha! We always think we don't have inspiration or that we lack ideas for the next collection. But then, when we put our minds together, we can suddenly have a feeling or atmosphere that we can base the next collection on. Prints are always the departing point and from there we look for the colors and the fabrics. Once we have that, it can go really quick. It is actually like solving a giant puzzle, where in the beginning it looks like a lot of chaos, and by putting all what you have lying in front of you in order, a collection emerges.



Essentiel Antwerp has a strong DNA and wants to empower women that have a strong personality and want to express themselves. What does the Essentiel Antwerp woman represent to you?

Tom — I always think the Essentiel Antwerp woman is someone young at heart, who knows and loves fashion but does not always follow it. She plays with it. It is good to work with someone like Inge, because she is the ultimate Essentiel Antwerp woman in my opinion. Not afraid to stand out and be bold, but always with both feet on the ground (even when wearing super high heels).



You're designing a womenswear collection. How do you incorporate Essentiel Antwerp in your own closet?

Tom — Tthis season I loved the bold check fabric we have in the women's collection, and I asked our supplier if he could make me a pair of pants in this fabric. Like this I can still represent Essentiel Antwerp. Oh, and I always incorporate some of the accessories in my wardrobe.



Let's look back at the 15 years you've been working for Essentiel Antwerp. How did it evolve?

Tom — I remember when I started that I really needed to adapt. The speed of doing things, the strong opinions everybody had, the way of working… I really needed time to adjust. I had to find my voice in the company, and it was sometimes hard. But I grew more confident and with that, my relationship with Inge and Esfan became even stronger. As a company we also needed to find our voice again somewhere along the way, and this was also not easy. Now in retrospect I think it is funny to see how, in a way, my personal process was linked to the one of Essentiel Antwerp. During these years we did some beautiful collections, crazy parties and we worked really hard to get where we are now.

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“Designing a collection is like solving a giant puzzle: by putting all what you have lying in front of you in order, a collection emerges.”
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Does social media have any effect on your job?

Tom — Since I am also responsible for the look and feel of this, I have to be aware what is happening on our social media. So yeah, it has an effect on my job. I check it a lot, maybe even too much, hehe! Actually, it became more and more important since this is now our most important way of interacting with our audience, so we really put a lot of thought in it. I sit down a lot with the marketing team on how to improve and to stay relevant. It became an important part of my job.



How do you stay innovative in this digital world?

Tom — It goes so fast! It is sheer impossible besides the rest of my work to be completely up to date with all current developments, but at the same time I find it very interesting. I try to read articles about all these innovations and to experience them for myself.

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“I always think the Essentiel Antwerp woman is someone young at heart, who knows and loves fashion but does not always follow it. She plays with it.”
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And what about sustainability, one of the biggest challenges of the fashion industry. How do you approach that?

Tom — The same as with the digital aspect. We did very important workshops about sustainability in the beginning of 2020 where we had some surprising results. We're actually doing better than what we thought. Now we are working hard to implement an even more sustainable way of working on all levels in our supply chain. This takes time, but because of corona and the lockdown, we were forced to make some important decisions that turn out to contribute to our sustainability program as well. So we are happy with where we are going.



What's the most memorable collection/piece you have created?

Tom — I will always remember this Flash collection Inge and I have created back in the days. Our Spring Summer collection of that year was not well received by our customers and we weren't happy with it either. We had listened too much to our agents and the end result was something nobody really liked. So when we started on the design on this Flash collection, we were really deflated. Inge suggested to go to India for two weeks to work on this collection. There we really went crazy with different colors and materials. I remember when we got back, our sales team was shocked by the bright colors and fluo silk skirts, but this small collection saved the season! People loved it and then and there Inge and I decided that the only way forward, was listening to our gut feeling!



Can you already lift the veil on what you're working on for 2021?

Tom — I am now working on the Fall and Winter collection of next year, but there are also some new developments going on that I am really excited about. Stay tuned, because 2021 looks promising.

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