Interview with German Fashion Maven Vanessa Bokaemper

by STEPHANIE WEI · December 19, 2008

As one of the fashion centers of the world, there are constantly young, ambitious designers trying to make their mark in New York City.  I always find it refreshing and exciting to come across a new designer who have the uncanny ability to express their perspective of the City through fashion and art.  Meet fashion maven and girl-about-town Vanessa Bokaemper, a native of Munich, Germany, and a soon-to-be graduate of the Academy of Fashion & Design (AMD).  Last winter, I met Vanessa while she was interning for a few months at Alexander Wang.   Not only does she have a distinctive eye for style, she is passionate, beautiful, intelligent, cultured, and of course, anything but boring!  I was most struck by her designs and portfolio because they weren't simply "pretty" nor "generic."  Each piece she creates is innovative and special yet functional, and the end result is a cohesive collection.

More photos and story below...

Vanessa is also an all-around skilled and talented fashion maven: she sews, sketches, designs, makes patterns, styles her photoshoots and edits the pictures (she's also quite tech-savvy).  I can always rely on her to keep me up-to-date on the chicest and most inspiring websites and blogs, such as this one, or this one, and this one.   Here's another of Vanessa's favorites with amazing photographs of interesting spaces.

Most recently, Vanessa designed and styled a collection, which was inspired by NYC.  When I saw the lookbook (see below for pictures), I was impressed by how well she was able to effectively capture her perspective of the City and the initial vision through her designs.  Her collection feels very raw and human with a hint of darkness, but it also celebrates individuality and the simple joy of everyday life.  Vanessa captures the essence of the perplexity and contradictions of the characters that contribute to the unmatchable charm and chaos of NYC.

What is the story behind the name of your Fashion label, "Nesselkinder"? Well, that is a really complex story and hard to explain in English, but I will try to. A "kind" in German means a "child" and because I was always the youngest child in our neighborhood, my friends nicknamed me "Nesselkind" as a combination of "Vanessa" and a "child." The idea behind my clothes is to keep your inner child and individuality and to make clothes with personal character. So, I thought "Nesselkind" would fit that and "Nesselkinder" is just the plural form in German.

Your final project/most recent collection is incredibly interesting and has a raw and honest quality to it from the pictures I've seen and what you've told me about it. Can you tell us the story behind it? The whole idea behind my collection is that in a world that is getting more global, it is hard to fit in and be unique at the same time. I was inspired by New York City since it is one of the most global cities in the world, with so many different and interesting people living in a dense area. My collection is for people who love and live with their personal disorders because being normal is boring. It is also a reflection of all different kinds of moods ranging from manic to depressive. The clothes are supposed to be comfortable and simple, but also different and stand out. The colors represent four moods: they are black (sad), a little bit of navy blue (calm), deep turquoise (happy), and a really intense pink (manic). I used big shoulder pads signifying strength and security, structured fabrics symbolizing a chaotic mind, and thin fabrics such as wool and silk jerseys to give comfort like a second skin. For example, I used distressed soft leather because every skin is individual and beautiful with all its marks and spots kind of like the human body. The zippers are supposed to show the complexity of a personal disorder when you sometimes just feel like you want to zip a part of you body on and off or close a zipper and hide something...

How long have you been designing? I've been sketching and drawing everything for as long as I can remember. I started painting the walls in my room as a little child and I always got sent out of class because I was painting my desk or whatever I could find..I started sewing my own clothes at age 15 since I couldn't buy or afford the designs I had in my mind so I figured I would have to do it myself! Although I didn't even have a sewing machine, I altered all my pants and shirts by hand.

How would you describe your "style"? I would describe my style as clean but edgy, unisex, really androgynous when it comes to womenswear. I love basics and high quality fabrics, and I'm not a big fan of loud clothes with glitter or huge label prints.

What is your favorite part about fashion? Fashion never becomes boring. I love combining new things again and again every day depending on how I feel. Also, I like styling, being creative and expressing my feelings and ideas through what you wear.

How does the design process for you work? I always carry around a little messy scrapbook and my two favorite pens, so whenever I have an idea, I make a little scribble or sometimes even just write down words like "collar", "big collar", "double asymmetric collar" or whatever shit comes to my mind. I also collect and cut out a lot of stuff from magazines and write down quotes out of books or blogs that inspire me. Then, I usually start thinking about the fabrics and colors that I see behind my idea and start making clearer sketches and patterns. I am pretty good at patternmaking, so I usually sew 1-3 sample pieces until I start sewing the final piece. But my favorite part, I have to say, is always when I'm done sewing and I can start organizing a photoshoot, sit down with my computer to work on those photos and make a look book and draw illustrations.

What and who inspire you? Movies and books. Things I see on the streets and arts. Every day situations and feelings - Life itself. As for designers, Jil Sander, Raf Simons and Karl Lagerfeld.

What's next for you? Are you planning to move to NYC? I think I'll just apply for jobs that fit me and see what comes next! I'm still not sure if I'm going to design or just illustrate and style. I love NYC and I've made a lot of good friends when I interned last year. I could definitely see myself in NYC and working there because there are so many young, interesting and inspiring characters.

Since the fashion industry is becoming increasingly oversaturated, it is more difficult to discover those who have that special something it takes to succeed.  But, on the bright side, it means that there are more fresh faces with new, different perspectives.  While we can always look toward the established and classic fashion gurus, it is interesting to find inspiration in the work of the up-and-coming designers from "our" generation.  These rising fashion mavens are the future of fashion and many of them, such as Vanessa, are creating pieces of art that reflect the complexities of today's NYC.  We're sure to see more of Vanessa in the future as she prepares for a more permanent move to the City.  The big question is which lucky fashion company will be the first to snag her?