The Amsterdam-based designer is driven by narrative and craft, adopting age-old techniques to create garments with soul

Charlotte Bakkenes crafts “garments with a soul”—driven by narrative, never rushed, grounded in intention down to every last detail. The Amsterdam-based designer started off in the realm of architecture, realizing, soon enough, that her passion lay in clothing. That early affinity still shows in her work: Bakkenes leans toward the sculptural, demonstrating a knack for sharp and unexpected silhouettes. She balances classicism with innovation, building on design’s oldest methods to create collections completely new.

Thus far, for instance, she’s dabbled with horsehair and crystals and pleating—collaborating with highly-skilled artisans, allowing their techniques to guide her creative path. “It’s about infusing garments with unexpected textures and aesthetics,” Bakkenes tells Document. “The unconventional materials are an integral part of my mission to redefine fashion as a form of artistic expression.”

Here, the designer elaborates on her creative ethos—how she seamlessly integrates tradition with the cutting-edge, fabricating designs with a life of their own.

Alexandra Bickerdike: How did your journey in design begin?

Charlotte Bakkenes: With the dream of becoming an architect. My path eventually shifted, and I graduated with honors from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in 2018. Despite this change, my love for architecture and sculpture still has a powerful influence on my work. I have a deep appreciation for pure materials, and enjoy experimenting with different mediums. Traditional crafts are a constant source of inspiration for me, shaping my artistic voice within the world of fashion.

Alexandra: How do you apply techniques or methodologies from other art practices to garment-making?

Charlotte: With each new collection, I select a particular material or craft as the central theme, and then build around it. This process involves immersing myself in experimentation with the chosen technique or material, allowing it to organically guide my creative journey. In the past, my collections have delved into homegrown crystals, pleating techniques, and the intricate world of weaving with horsehair.

Alexandra: Tell me about the craftsmanship required to make your garments.

Charlotte: Craftsmanship is paramount to bringing my garments to life, and collaboration is an integral part of my process. I frequently partner with skilled artists who are experts in specific crafts, seamlessly blending their mastery with my design vision. [For example], my collaboration with weaving artist Marianne Kemp for my graduation collection: Marianne imparted her expertise in weaving horsehair on a loom, and together we brought this technique to the forefront. These collaborations elevate the uniqueness of my garments, making them distinctive works.

Alexandra: There is both classicism and modernity behind your craft and your materials. Are you drawn to the contrasts between those two worlds? Or are you more interested in finding commonalities between them?

Charlotte: I’m drawn to their contrasts. My aim is to cultivate a sense of curiosity by juxtaposing these worlds within my designs. I want people to wonder about the construction techniques and materials, inviting them on a journey of exploration. For instance, the white dress with feathers: I incorporated modern techniques like laser-cutting and 3D-printing, but had it photographed by the artist Chantal Elisabeth Ariëns using an age-old photographic method.

Alexandra: Why horsehair and homegrown crystals? How do these unconventional materials fit into your broader artistic ethos?

Charlotte: I’ve always been drawn to experimentation, and these materials provide a perfect opportunity for pushing my creative boundaries. Horsehair and homegrown crystals have a unique allure, because they represent a blend of tradition and innovation. For a previous collection, I conducted dozens of experiments [before] succeeding in creating a dress completely covered in crystals. It’s about infusing garments with unexpected textures and aesthetics; the unconventional materials are an integral part of my mission to redefine fashion as a form of artistic expression.

Alexandra: You’ve spoken previously about crafting ‘garments with a soul.’ What does soul mean in this context, and how do you achieve it?

Charlotte: Some of my pieces take weeks of dedicated work to create. Building them means diving deep into the narrative behind each collection, embracing the craftsmanship that brings it to life, and ensuring that every detail serves a purpose.

Alexandra: How do you hope your practice will evolve from here?

Charlotte: Looking ahead, I envision expanding my practice to include ready-to-wear pieces, crafted from high-quality and sustainable materials. Perhaps even exploring the development of my own sustainable materials. My goal is to further merge creativity with sustainability, ensuring that my designs not only captivate, but also contribute positively to the fashion industry.