[March 19 2021]
interview by MICKY FRANCIS HES
photos by MEES MERLIN
In conversation with the Amsterdam-based duo behind the brand Ninamounah. Purple talks with Ninamounah Langestraat and Robin Burggraaf about their digital show “Seduce Me” — a collection underpinning desire, mating rituals, and lust as they showcase at Paris fashion week for the very first time.
MICKY FRANCIS HES — A recurring element of Ninamounah’s identity is sex. How did this play a key role in your latest digital show “Seduce Me”?
NINAMOUNAH LANGESTRAAT — After one year of living through these strange times, we all craved for a certain togetherness. You could say we were longing for intimacy and sexual tension. We have all become these small little islands. This led me to another curiosity as I was questioning how we, in times of social distancing, are still seducing one another. “Seduce Me” is about everything that happens before the actual deed occurs. The rituals can manifest in the most hypnotic ways. Being able to seduce or getting seduced by someone is so beautifully complex. Seduction has a double meaning as it’s tempting, manipulative, dangerous, and hypnotizing on the one hand. On the other hand, it is also very intricate and beautiful as every sexual creature has its own rules and rituals. Seductive women are usually depicted in a negative way, for instance, sirens in mythology are seen as these dangerous creatures with a heightened sexual allure. With this collection, we wanted to shine a positive light on the power of seduction. There is power in genitals, moaning orgasms, and beautiful love songs.
MICKY FRANCIS HES — Why is Ninamounah always drawn to themes that are transitional or straight-on fluid?
ROBIN BURGGRAAF — If you look through our past themes and collections, we are always drawn to a state in-flux, a period where possibilities are still open and fluid. Seduction is similar in the sense that it represents the first bolt of electricity, the first step in the dance of seduction, and eventually results in mating. It’s a moment that is naughty yet still holds its innocence. I guess it has a lot to do with our position as a young brand where we are still working on growing our “skeleton.”
MICKY FRANCIS HES — What exactly do you mean by that?
ROBIN BURGGRAAF — It’s our way of saying that we want to keep things relatively open to definition.
MICKY FRANCIS HES — Mounah you mentioned that you approach your work in a similar way to biological research. This research has to establish a dialogue. What conversation do you want people to have after they’ve seen your show?
NINAMOUNAH LANGESTRAAT — We have to be more critical of what is happening in fashion. Last year was very turbulent, as the virus shut down the planet and we got to see the biggest social justice movement in history. We can’t go back to ‘normal’ this year. We need to wake up and realize that ‘normal’ brought us to a collapsing ecosystem and that ‘normal’ was not fair or beneficial to more than half of the world’s population. We need new methods, and art and fashion can be tools to rethink certain cultural systems.
MICKY FRANCIS HES — Then how would you imagine your ideal world? Through a utopia?
NINAMOUNAH LANGESTRAAT — I immediately think of our beautiful ecosystem. The ecosystem to me is the perfect example of balance. A balance between push and pull, giving and taking. Every animal, organism and plant has a purpose for its existence. Humanity has strayed away from this connection to mother nature. Mother nature to me is a goddess. In our ideal world, everyone is able to be the truest version of themselves and people live in harmony with nature. Perhaps this is a naive and unattainable vision, but there is proof that communities like this already exist. If only we could have this on a global scale…
MICKY FRANCIS HES — What is the best compliment someone can give you after watching your digital show?
NINAMOUNAH LANGESTRAAT — I do not want to sound cliché, but I believe most designers want people to be intrigued by their work. I want it to trigger and touch them deeply. That the audience wants to know more and start asking themselves questions. I would actually really like it if they were a bit confused for them to get back to me and say they didn’t quite get what happened, or mention that they didn’t know what was going on. Because I believe that’s when you are able to start conversations. Commentary on fashion can be a bit inadequate, because “beauty” can be so plain. When something is deemed beautiful you quickly grow tired of it. That’s why I would prefer the viewers to not quite understand our show as this would result in them rewatching it a couple of times. For example, I would appreciate compliments that would address the show as hypnotizing and mysterious. Much like children, I want the viewers to be curious about everything. Children have this fascinating ability to always keep asking questions even when the topic might be deemed shameful.
ROBIN BURGGRAAF — Perhaps the best compliment is not receiving one. We have succeeded as Ninamounah if our work creates an open dialogue. And nothing is as defined as the words that people try to use when articulating their emotions. How come we have so many seasons? Fashion always needs to keep re-inventing itself, much like our brand, it is constantly in transition and does not provide us with definite answers. It’s very important to spark a conversation, revisit topics when the situation arises, and even contradict ourselves when it’s needed.
MICKY FRANCIS HES — Is there someone you would really like to dress in Ninamounah?
NINAMOUNAH LANGESTRAAT — Eartha Kitt, Iggy Pop, and especially the legendary Gail Ann Dorsey who used to be my mother’s best friend. She is this amazing musician and bass guitarist, that was in David Bowie’s band and played alongside some of the biggest stars. In fact Gail is a big star herself. She actually made the music for the “Seduce Me” show.
MICKY FRANCIS HES — There is always a diverse casting present at Ninamounah. Backstage there is a big supply of energies and magnetism. Can you elaborate on the casting for “Seduce Me?”
NINAMOUNAH LANGESTRAAT — I would say there is a lot of sexual tension backstage. We are surrounded by strong, vocal people. They have a strong opinion on art, fashion, and music. A good example of this sexual tension is when we start teasing each other. We don’t find it difficult to flirt and nothing is considered weird inside our bubble. Open dialogues are important to us. You can talk to the model or make-up artist and have an interesting conversation about biology because the people that we surround ourselves with have an interest in the same things that we find important. A curiosity that spreads far beyond small-talk. As our topics can be quite triggering, it’s very important to work in a space where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves fully.
ROBIN BURGGRAAF — While casting, we work quite instinctively — we look at the character, personality and this feels natural to us. It’s important to have diverse representation, but we don’t lead with a static ‘casting board’. We need to be drawn to someone, whatever size, gender, age, or background. You will see everyone in a good mood backstage, as everyone can feel the love and energy. We only work with people we have a little crush on.
MICKY FRANCIS HES — The new issue of Purple is “The Island” issue. It’s interesting that you observed at the beginning of this pandemic that: “We are all living on small islands.” Mounah you are from Ruigoord, which in The Netherlands is known as this creative village just outside of Amsterdam. Ruigoord was settled by a group of artists back in the sixties, it’s a place surrounded by nature, animals and there is a certain communal kindness. You could say Ruigoord is somewhat of an island on its own. What is the connection between your upbringing and the brand?
NINAMOUNAH LANGESTRAAT – The freedom. Ruigoord is known as the artist colony under the grey industry clouds of Amsterdam. Everyone is authentic, but even though they have this individualistic expression the people at Ruigoord still choose to be part of a larger whole. There is a strong sense of community and all identities are accepted. Nothing is too crazy. My family would actually be very disappointed if I would turn out to be an accountant. They expect us to be even crazier than our previous generations. It’s encouraged to make new stories and that is what we want to do with our brand.