Meet the Dutch designer reinventing streetwear
Photos and videos by Lonneke van der Palen, shot with Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
When Amsterdam designer Daniëlle Cathari was a fashion student, she pieced together old adidas clothes to make new sportswear. What happened next was not a legal case, but the door opening to the fashion industry and her unconventional approach to fashion bleeding out into her use of photography and overall vision. In this WePresent partnership with Samsung, Jessica Bumpus investigates how this creator transforms her ideas into reality.
At 16, rather than take on the traditional paper round or work at the supermarket tills for a part time job, an innovative teenage Daniëlle Cathari opted instead to make handcrafted bow ties and sell them through Tumblr.
“There was no Instagram back then,” recalls the now-25-year-old of her early ambition and entrepreneurial spirit, which impressively went so far as to land those bow ties their very own bricks-and-mortar point of sale in a small menswear shop. “That was my way to be creative and also earn some money.” It was clever thinking because now, nine years later, the Amsterdam-based designer has nearly 100k Instagram followers, is working with some of the biggest creative organizations out there and can count Kendall Jenner as her very own brand ambassador.
It was during her second year at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute that a Hollywood-style make-or-break decision came Daniëlle’s way. Having created a sustainably-minded collection that took existing garments instead of new fabric as its base, she presented three reworked adidas Originals tracksuits – vintage pieces constructed into new silhouettes – and posted them on Instagram. Not long after, she was contacted by the New York-based fashion collective VFiles (it’s a fashion label, retailer and incubator all in one) to show during New York Fashion Week. Eight pieces in total went down the runway at the AW17 show – at a time when she was still only an aspiring designer.
Eager to get on with her career, Daniëlle had already planned to sign up for some sort of competition or initiative straight after graduation. “I knew I wanted to create for my own vision,” she recalls. And so the forward-planning creative would next wind up at the centre of potentially some hot legal water when adidas saw what she had done.
“Either they could sue me for using their famous stripes, or bring me in,” Daniëlle admits. “They brought me in, obviously. It was kind of . I was a student and I had no (commercial) intentions, it started out as a school project so I wasn’t thinking about legal stuff.” It turned out to be one of the best career moves she could have made (albeit by accident and perhaps on the risky side). “In the end they really loved it. They found it really radical, this girl taking the brand and toughening it up. I wasn’t even thinking about that, it was just the idea of the three stripes which are so iconic. It wasn’t me being super-radical, I was just in my creative bubble!”
Regardless, the radical change came in the impact it had: she was astute enough to see how it could fast-track her into the industry, and take her from student to fully-fledged designer in an instant. Daniëlle Cathari x adidas Originals (fronted by Kendall) launched for AW18. And at the same time, Daniëlle was still able to run her own label – the combination of which armed her with a multitude of new skills.
“It’s such a good masterclass,” she says of the experience. It enabled her to see how the real world works in terms of departments outside of just the design team which, previously, she had only really been used to. “It’s the best of both worlds.” School is one thing but industry is another. She advocates the benefits of any such collaborations for other young designers who are looking to tear up the rule book when it comes to breaking into the industry, which is renowned for being unforgiving, cutthroat and fast-paced.
“The speed of the advancement of technology is definitely helping a lot of emerging brands, including ourselves. It's much easier to get noticed now,” says Danielle. That was not the case, however, when she first began back in the days when self-promotion by way of photography was much more challenging.
Now, photography is her weapon of choice when it comes to collecting inspiration, self-promotion or even right up to final campaign shoots. “For most creatives, photography plays such a big role in what they do,” says Daniëlle. “It’s such a powerful medium. For me it’s essential, both in practical ways to capture process and inspiration images, but also for personal use; capturing memories, and posting to social media. Photography is how you portray your vision clearly, but then also how you get it out there – it all goes hand in hand.”
Specific to Daniëlle’s work, it’s reflective of the subtly-executed elements of her design style: Comfy lounge looks and feminine silhouettes, a demure and muted palette. Bearing that in mind, she has a strictly no-flash photography rule, preferring instead to seek out daylight – something you’ll see perpetuates her Instagram posts. “It has this warm and cosy tone, which is very much my style and woven into the DNA of the brand.” This aesthetic also crops up in campaigns and advertorials: See Kendall Jenner cross-legged and curled up on a sofa drinking coffee for the adidas Originals FW19 campaign (creatively directed by Daniëlle and shot by Pavielle Garcia) or intimate shady studio shots for her own-line drops. As well as everything to do with Daniëlle Cathari. Nothing is over the top, it’s lo-fi, creative but believable.
“For any emerging designer, it is important to stick to your own vision and brand DNA. And constantly push this through everything you do. Through design and through photography,” she explains, “I always stay consistent.” If zooming-in is really your thing, she shares as an example, then that should factor throughout and impact everything to make the brand instantly recognisable, no big budgets required.
Photography can also be significant in the actual design process too, she says, particularly with regards to collecting fleeting glimpses of inspiration. It can be the gathering of a mental scrapbook. “It’s the small things I look out for, it can be a color or a shape,” Daniëlle says. “You always have your phone with you, which makes it quick and easy to capture anything. It’s super important to document for inspiration. It’s all about being in a moment, I see something, when I’m in a car , and I can just click!”
But Daniëlle has a failsafe trick up her sleeve when it comes to dealing with that freneticism. “Don’t feel suppressed , get inspiration and motivation from it,” she says. Equally, as she points out, you don’t have to be in the traditional big four fashion capitals to make it – the fact that you’re not provides a unique USP. “I always had this idea of going to New York and continuing (my work) but now I really feel the team has settled in Amsterdam and it feels good to be here. We’re thinking about more sustainable production and producing close to home makes Amsterdam very logical. There is a lot happening, it is all possible.”
Currently, Daniëlle has had to put her studies and graduation on hold. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s all about acting upon what happens,” she says. It’s this agility that has played a significant role in her trajectory and set her apart from the rest. “I always loved to create but I also had a big interest in entrepreneurship. I knew I wanted to create my own vision, so that’s how it started.”
Despite the amount of projects she’s juggling, Daniëlle wants to retain her observant streak, knowing that it’s the key to pure creative thought. “Photography will always play a huge role both for the brand as for me personally. It’s an essential way of expressing the vision and DNA of the brand,” she says. “Just like within design, there should be a recognizable element, a red thread, throughout creations. And that should also be translated in the way the brand is captured.” With that in mind, next up is a collaboration with the eyewear brand Retro Super Future and, having finally moved into a workspace that is not also her apartment (which was self-confessedly beginning to look like a distribution centre), Daniëlle has her sights set on keeping the momentum going, with further collaborations in the works – she just can’t talk about those ones yet.