It was impossible not to be affected by the choice of music at Dutch label BOTTER’s SS19 show, which opened BFW yesterday morning. The lyrics, “How fragile we are” from Sting’s “Fragile” emphasised the emotive core of a collection that was poetic as much as it was wearable. The duo behind the menswear brand, Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh, make clothes that hark back to their Caribbean roots — Botter is originally from the Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao, and Herrebrugh is half-Dominican — and their garments marry the vibrancy and fluidity of Caribbean culture with the smart elegance of European tailoring. The result was a collection, entitled Al Fombra, that hummed with the intensity — or perhaps even fragility — of personal history. The sophistication of loose checkered trouser suits was offset by plastic neckerchiefs and baseball caps, or bright Caribbean prints and colours mingled with plain basics. In a fashion climate seemingly dominated by irony, lazy street style and shameless archival plundering, BOTTER’s latest collection stands out for its big-heartedness — these are lively, original and meaningful clothes.
Speaking about the Caribbean culture that inspired Al Fombra, the designer duo said, “We thought it was wonderful how people who have so little can be so creative. They have to survive, and they simply don’t have access to all the materials that we can source in Europe”. This “flight or fight” theme runs throughout BOTTER’s design ethos — its SS18 collection was titled Fish or Fight in reference to the plight many Caribbean people face trying to establish a new life in Europe or elsewhere, or alternatively, trying to make a living through fishing on their homeland. Combining elements from this award-winning collection — Fish or Flight won the Grand Prix du Jury Première Vision at the Hyères Festival earlier this year — Al Fombra continues this overt connection to Caribbean fishing culture. For example, one model carried a large bundle of fishing net down the runway, while another sported an oddly elegant veil of mesh (not to mention the numerous models who wore jaunty hats fashioned from inflatable pool toys). Paired with classic trenches and oversized sports tops, the effect was poignant, almost as though these fishermen have been washed ashore to a different land where their colourful patterns ceaselessly stand out.
It is easy to see why BOTTER has been making waves in the industry— beyond its prize win at the Hyères Festival, BOTTER was also nominated as a finalist for the prestigious LVMH Prize 2018. With a racially diverse cast and a mix of male and female models (BOTTER’s looks can be considered unisex), these clothes are for a contemporary moment — one that may be harsh, but that is kept afloat by the strength, vigour and bold determination of all of those just trying to survive.
Take a look below to see looks from the runway collection: