Interview with Designer Dirk Oelmann
By Sarah Kelley, ASTONISH Berlin
(Photos courtesy of UCON Silhouette)
After attending several Fashion Week events here in Berlin, EDGED Showroom really got the atmosphere right. Holding a showroom in a club space, with sand right outside the door and a large deck overlooking a swimming pool on the canal was the perfect illustration of how high fashion can be approachable to everybody. This was the perfect Berlin combination of relaxation and hype. As I was strolling through the Showroom, I got a chance to speak with three featured designers, one of which was Dirk Oelmann of UCON Silhouette. Not only was he holding down the booth, but after a week of staying up to finish the layout of the latest UCON lookbook, he was also video documenting the runway show and the showroom! Even in between all of this, he told me a bit about the line and we managed to set up an interview date.
A week later, after things had calmed down, I met Dirk at the coolest flat I have seen.
ASTONISH: Where are you originally from?
DIRK: I grew up in Siegen, Germany.
ASTONISH: What sort of educational background do you have?
DIRK: I went to Bonn after high school and apprenticed as a tailor there for two years. Then I went on to the University of Applied Sciences in Trier, near Luxemburg. I also did my erasmus (a program in the EU which allows students to take a semester at a university in another country) at Taik University in Finland. And then I interned with Alexander McQueen in London for 6 months. Oh and I also studied graphic design for a year.
ASTONISH: Wow, quite a well-rounded education. How was interning with Alexander McQueen?
DIRK: It was good, but really intense; 10-12 hour days without getting paid. A good look into what the fashion business is like.
ASTONISH: How long have you been designing for UCON Silhoutte?
DIRK: They came to me in March or April of this year and asked if I would collaborate with them. I was quite honored because I had known about the line for some time. UCON has been around for about 10 years now, and they always do collaborations with other designers. Their last collection was in collaboration with a product designer.
ASTONISH: UCON Silhoutte definitely holds true to the ‘Street Style’, what kind of connection do you have to urban lifestyle?
DIRK: I have been rollerblading for about 16 years now!
ASTONISH: What is something that sets UCON apart form the other skate brands?
DIRK: Hm, well I think that I try to bring an element of high fashion to the look of UCON. The Silhouette line isn´t really a skate-related line. If you like the cloth you simply like it. It’s not about being a skater or not. I think one of the biggest differences design wise to other skate brands is that we do not use any logo or print on the garments. We try to keep it super plain, but in the same moment we focus more on new proportions and work over all the patterns to have a more contemporary look.
ASTONISH: Would you say that you being a skater affects the way you design clothes?
DIRK: I don’t think it actually affects what I design per say, like I would probably design much the same way even if I didn’t skate, but I do know that it’s important for skaters to be able to go from their form of physical activity, to meeting up with friends, going to a bar, etc, while still being comfortable and cool looking.
ASTONISH: How would you describe your design process?
DIRK: That’s sort of hard to say, there are many ways. I guess it all starts with a sketch. Not even a sketch, just drawing lines, and from there I get an idea for a silhoutte, and build off of that. Also, I take elements of previous designs or make slight changes to existing designs. I think it’s important to have an evolutionary process, rather than making huge stylistic leaps.
ASTONISH: What would you consider the most important aspect to keep in mind when designing menswear?
DIRK: I think it’s important that it keeps a certain roughness, without being ultra masculine. When I sketch, I often put scruffy beards on my croquis. I guess sort of a combination of rough and soft. I like the idea of women being able to wear men’s clothes, and vice versa, but I think it should be clear that it’s not meant for that gender. So either way, the clothing lends a sort of edge or softness to the wearer without them having to try for that.
ASTONISH: What sort of changes in menswear have you noticed recently?
DIRK: Haha, well when I started studying I would have been astonished at the thought of men wearing such tight pants as I do now, so I guess there aren’t so many boundaries for guys anymore. The opportunity for men to express themselves through what they wear has definitely opened up.
ASTONISH: Where do you get your inspiration?
DIRK: I am actually very inspired with how interior designers and architects work with materials and proportions. I really try not to exclusively read fashion magazines, I’m more likely to peruse architectural or graphic design magazines.
ASTONISH: What would you say the biggest influence behind what you design is?
DIRK: Definitly a mixture of my sportswear roots and my interest in high fashion and trying to find a good balance between the two.
ASTONISH: Where would you like to see menswear go in the next few years?
DIRK: I would like to see it in the direction where Damir Doma and Boris Saberi are going, more exaggerated in general.
ASTONISH: Whats your favorite season to design for?
DIRK: Well, menswear is so much more consistent than womenswear, so there aren’t a whole lot of differences between seasons. This is another reason I am so inspired by architecture, because the architects know that it is going to be there for a long time. That’s closer to the way I design, not thinking about the trends and seasons, just about the timelessness of good style.
ASTONISH: What’s something that everybody should keep in mind when getting dressed?
DIRK: Don’t care too much! Just wear what you want to wear, right in that moment I would also like to add that I think it’s really important that people become more sensitive to what they buy, especially the amount of work that does or does not go into it. As a tailor I am very aware of the amount of work that goes into a well-fitting pair of pants, for example. It’s important to be aware of who or what you are supporting. In this context I would like to mention, that all of UCON’s Silhouette production is done within Europe, which I am personally really proud of!