When Debby van der Veer founded the Blandat brand in 2013, she couldn’t have envisaged the future of the highly stylised accessory brand. A Dutch native living in Joburg, Van der Veer brought a European sensibility to her small scarf and interior label. Inspired by colour, light, the sounds, and the cultural melting-pot of everyday SA life, she called the label Blandat, which means “mash-up” in Swedish. “The original idea was to create a more relevant, modern take on the traditional wax cloth,” she said in an interview with The Times in 2016.
Over the next three years, design commissions would flow — a collaboration with the niche swimwear brand Temple of Reason, a one-off celebratory piece for the Krugerrand’s 50th anniversary, a wallpaper for Nando’s. But it wasn’t until she met Leontien Groot of the Netherlands-based agency Brooklyn Gallery in 2018 that Blandat would move from a cottage business to a luxury brand with major international presence.
“Doing it all on my own here was difficult,” Van der Veer admits. “On the one hand you are out of the European trend cycle and therefore free to develop your own signature without being influenced by other creatives. But it’s hard to work in isolation.”
Groot has come on board as a commercial partner, representing Blandat through her multi-brand showroom in Breukelen, Netherlands and ensuring a retail positioning that works well for the brand.
“The moment I saw the Blandat designs, I saw the uniqueness of the label,” says Groot. “The combinations of realism and surrealism ensure I continually fall in love with the prints over and over again.”
The autumn/winter 2019 range — a combination of florals and botanical outlines in rich, textured colours — has been picked up by the Dutch multi-brand store Pauw, where Blandat will be in good company alongside Marni and Dries van Noten.
“My starting point for this collection was climate change,” says Van der Veer. “I started looking at the sea, at forests, at the idea of vitality, all of which comes through in the print.”
For the first time, the Blandat collection of silk scarves and shirts has been complemented by outerwear — a silk cocoon coat, quilted, rumour has it, by the same factory that does some of the Chanel work.
“For me, the idea of sustainability is not just about using techniques and materials with integrity,” explains Van der Veer, “it’s also about ensuring age-old arts are maintained. This sometimes means using cultural craftmanship from each continent.” Silks are spun and printed in Italy and beadwork gets done locally.
Working on next season, she is exploring her idea of Russia — the folklore, artists, colours, people, history. “I always start with an idea and layer and layer into it,” she explains. This is somewhat reminiscent of the organic growth of the business — moving from textile design to accessories to slowly adding ready-to-wear.
But if the current trajectory continues, she may have to ask the question many South African creatives have asked before: can a global fashion label succeed with a base here? Or has she already cracked this question by bringing in an international European partner? Whatever the answer, the brand appears to be living up to its name — not only mashing design sensibilities but also crossing borders and challenging the status quo. A formidable way to make a real impact.
• From the October edition of Wanted 2019.