As with every year, it was young designers and fashion students who raised the curtain at London Fashion Week on February 18. For anyone interested in fashion and what clothing trends tell us about our times, the presentation of the diploma collections is an exciting event. Journalists and those watching the fashion industry never miss an opportunity to sneak into these shows in the hopes of discovering a rising star and revealing them to the world. In fact, it is always the Instagram accounts of these experts that draw the general public’s attention to a new prodigy or rising star.

So, when Suzy Menkes starts talking about the work of someone like Dirk Vaessen, public attention follows. Few people had heard of Vaessen, 26, a Masters student at the London College of Fashion. But with 362,000 views of his video on her page, a few hundred thousand eyes suddenly settled on him and Google searches followed as people worked to discover the character behind the phenomenon. A few hours later, his show recorded more than 22 million views on TikTok. With such numbers, he’s clearly a talent to follow, even to pursue.

“Brave Hendrick”

Dirk Vaessen. A young Dutch shoemaker, Vaessen started with his country’s famous wooden clog and used it to explore a concept around form and function. Originally, he dreamed of wearing heels, but not finding heels in his size, he decided to make them himself. Starting from there, he cut and carved wood, observed, experimented with mechanical and electronic tools, and ended up touching upon an abstraction.

He invented an alter-ego, born in 2070, whom he calls “Brave Hendrick”. In Dutch, a “Brave Hendrik” is not at all the brave hero one might imagine in English. On the contrary, he is a nice, obedient and exemplary boy who never breaks the rules. This is a funny label for a collection that now has tens of millions of views, it’s anything but following the rules.

Wooden Oddities

Have you ever tried walking with planks strapped to your feet? Or with wooden shapes running up to your knees like rudimentary ski boots? Or small stepladders that leave you prone to tipping over? Because that’s what it’s all about. The diploma collection presented by Dirk Vaessen challenges, beyond the shoe, the most elementary movement there is: walking. “London College of Fashion – these shoes are NOT made for walking!!!” soberly comments Suzy Menkes on Instagram.

The world’s leading fashion journalist did not name the designer. Obviously, it was still too early to remember his name. In the video, we see men dressed in a single piece of beige neoprene attached by one or more tone-on-tone belts. They are shod in these funny wooden shapes with which they try laboriously to cross the stage. Something about them is reminiscent of paintings by Lucio Fontana.

Followers comment in response to Suzy Menkes, challenged by the oddity of these designs and especially the zombie-like gait they inflict on those who wear them. Some deplore their “ugliness”, others say it’s time for men to understand the suffering that heels inflict on women. Others wonder whether it is a campaign to draw attention to the pain of arthritis.

Dirk Vaessen explains to the media a complex thesis according to which, in a dematerialized world, the only material possession we have left would be our own body. He creates clothes and accessories that provoke particular situations, force the body to adapt to them, negotiate its position, discover its potential, engage a conversation with itself.