A legacy of style in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Last week I visited the exhibition about the life and work of two creative Dutch contemporaries. Interior and product designer Benno Premsela (1920-1997) and couturier Max Heymans (1918-1997), important style influencers of their time.
Two men, two visions. Both with strong opinions about art and fashion in the post–war years in The Netherlands. Their personal stories appear similar, being among the few survivors of their Jewish families after WW-II. Their personal loss spurred them to live life to the fullest.
They not only used their innovate talents to inspire others. They also belonged to the élite group of Dutch celebrities who openly came out gay at a time when the subject was completely taboo. Premsela and Heymans only met for the first time shortly after the war.
In this period Premsela designed handbags and Heymans made hats, which were sold via acquaintances.
De Bijenkorf window displays by Benno Premsela
Premsela is famous for his imaginative window displays for De Bijenkorf (department store Amsterdam) throughout the years. Also his carpets and the Lotek lamp have become timeless interior classics and changed many a Dutch interior. As chairman of gay rights organisation COC, he was a pioneer for gay liberation in the Netherlands.
Haute couture designer Max Heymans
Starting his career as a hat maker, he took his inspiration from Paris. His great heroin Coco Chanel inspired him to create his own patterned designs and not buy the French fabrics. He tailored his creations to the Dutch woman and was loved for this. He was the first flamboyant Dutch couturier.
His coming out autobiography ‘Knal’ – published in 1966 – broke many taboos. He openly shared his being gay and a transvestite.
What makes this exhibition so unique?
First of all the trip down memory lane. For me, the quality of this great exhibition lies in the fact that it really shows the parallel lives of both men.
The second aspect is the diversity of what’s on display at this exhibition. From work to clothes and from newspapers till interiors. This makes it easy to imagine their stylish lives.
And finally the variety of activities offered during this exhibition. Fashion shows, a symposium on gay liberation and a children’s bag- and hat-making workshop à la Benno and Max. There is some courage and style inspiration for everyone. _AW
JHM.nl till June,26 2016. photos © Erwin Olaf, Venus Veldhoen, Hans Dukkers