Ellen Haeser, founder of the eponymous Netherlands-based Studio Haeser, knows a trend when she sees one. She’s even made a few of her own.
The Dutch print designer has been developing textiles, wall treatments, and garments for nearly 40 years. She also introduced trend forecasting to Europe decades before the term entered mainstream use. Ever in demand, she’s worked with brands like Nike, Desigual, Sportmax from Max Mara and, recently, Naia™ from Eastman.
Haeser always knew the artistic life was for her. “From 4 years old, I knew I wanted to be creating with my hands,” she says. Haeser learned to sew and was given a small sewing machine before she found her way to the fashion program of the Academy of Visual Arts in Rotterdam (now the Willem de Kooning Academy). From there, she took her passion and education out into the world to found her own studio.
Haeser draws inspiration from an eclectic array of sources. She’s a collector not just of ideas, but of stuff. “I need actual things — things I can have in front of me.” Fabric scraps, books of natural history, objets d’art — many collected during her extensive travels in India and across the globe — all these things accumulate and percolate hoping to one day pop up in a print, enriching the narrative of the piece.
“It’s about telling the story visually,” she says. But it’s not just from her Kunstkammer that these stories get told. “It’s about what’s happening in the world. It sounds maybe a bit spiritual, but it’s the existing beauty all around us that inspires me.”
Haeser’s work is very much invested in the real world. Not only is she quick to point out the collaborative nature of her practice, at her core, she is always striving to create “something which makes sense for other people.” This is clear from her innovations in trend forecasting, a field necessarily concerned with thinking about and predicting what others want. But for Haeser, it isn’t just impersonal analytics that leads to what the market might demand. “It's very much based on intuition,” she notes. And it isn’t merely seeing what conditions could arise, it’s about making sure they do. “Trend forecasting isn’t so much influencing my work,” she says. “I’m creating these conditions myself.” In her own words, it’s about putting “meaning before matter.”
In 2015, Haeser saw the changes happening in fashion and realized that she needed to offer a refreshed take. The flashy fashion cycle was speeding up on one side, and on the other being countered with some bland clothing. She conceived “Be a Blender” to syncretize ways of thinking and making, while connecting different people and parts of the product pipeline. Of course, this wasn’t entirely new for her. “I always had been a blender or a person connecting things or people or ideas or disciplines,” she says. She realized this attitude was something she could share with others to help them in her work. Blending, however, is not thoughtless mishmash. Much like her prints, which are so often are born of collision and collage, blending is about how the individual parts come together to make something not just greater, but different. “Blending doesn’t mean it all becomes a sort of soup. You need to see still the individual ingredients of what you are going to put together,” Haeser says.
Haeser is always ready for the new — just not for its own sake. A mother, she learns as much from her kids and their friends as from those who have been in the industry for decades. “This profession is defined by change,” she says. “The generations blend. It’s so important to have an open mind.”
Haeser works intimately not only with her imagery, but with her material. “The relationship between the fabric and the prints, and also the colors, is very important,” she says. “It's absolutely the first thing you need to think of as a designer or product developer. It’s like a painter to paint.” This thinking informed her work with Eastman in 2017, when she developed 14 original prints to show at Interfilière Paris. “Fabrics containing Naia are a great canvas for numerous types of print styles. From abstract painterly to photo realistic styles, everything printed beautifully and was easily converted into garments.”
The prints were inspired by the Naia “From Nature to Fashion” ethos — where wood pulp becomes something altogether different in new fabric form. One set of prints, the Garden collection, collaged floral patterns — from the natural world, other fabrics, and elsewhere — alongside text and images. While keeping with Haeser’s penchant for collage, the Nomad series often leaned toward more abstract, with vibrating prints with energetic overlays inspired by travels abroad.
In the end, Naiaserved Haeser’s purposes well. “I found it very easy to use. It’s easy to care for, easy to wear. It’s strong. Basically, there are a lot of plusses,” she says. Of course, all the high-tech fabric or high design concepts don’t instantly lead to great clothes. Artistry is key. For Haeser, fashion is a chance to “use your almost limitless creativity” to make something that people can use every day.
Hardly the cliché of a solitary artist, however, Haeser believes that at its core, fashion is “all about connecting people.”