Duran Lantink On Turning Diesel Jeans into Mini Skirts & Working With Cape Town’s Sistaaz of the Castle

Lantink turns Diesel jeans into mini-skirts and is working with Cape Town's Sistaaz of the Castle.

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Duran Lantink does things differently.

He broke through into the public consciousness by creating Janelle Monae’s famous—and rather brilliant—”vagina pants.” Ever since this eye-catching introduction, he has become known for his vibrant, sustainable approach, which takes designer surpluses, splices and reimagines existing pieces, and results in a fresh, decidedly colorful post-label fusion.

Janelle Monáe performs on Coachella Stage during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 12, 2019 in Indio, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kevin Winter

His vision earned him a spot on the 2019 LVMH shortlist.

Now, the Dutch designer is teaming up with Browns in London to give new life to the concept shop’s deadstock. He debuted the partnership in Berlin this past weekend (it is now available on Browns’ website). The collaboration is an electrifying combination, which has manifested in a burnt orange army coat transformed into a “super, super short” mini skirt, a dress fashioned from Lantink’s childhood backpack and his best friend’s wedding gown (“The day after she wanted a divorce,” he recalled), and some rather genius rebirths of vintage Lanvin garments, Commes des Garçons coats, worn-in Balenciaga items and more.

We spoke with the designer about what he’s currently up to, his path to sustainable design, and the work he’s doing with trans sex workers, the Sistaaz of the Castle, in Cape Town, South Africa.

When did you first develop an interest in fashion and design?

Duran Lantink: It was at a very young age. Basically, I grew up in a family where fashion was always there. My mom’s friends were always busy with dressing up. She has a lot of transvestite friends, so there were always people dressing up and going to parties. [They] were always very keen on me learning the six designers from Antwerp. Margiela and Dries and Ann Demeulemeester. At a young age, I got those books already.

Such a sophisticated entrance.

Yeah, there are six people you need to know in fashion, those are the six people, go ahead. They helped me form who I am now. Walter Van Beirendonck was one of my most important influences. He used to have a character motif called ‘Puk Puk,’ which is like an alien cartoon and he would do graphics on the shirts and I used to have pens of it, a bag, a booklet to write in. Those kinds of things are super important [laughing].

What were some of the first types of things you designed? And when did you start engaging with this concept of sustainability?

I always felt the urge. It needs to come from yourself. I used to draw a lot, but my stepfather at the age of 13 or 12 had loads of piles of Diesel jeans and they were just there and he was never wearing them. So, we started cutting up the waistbands and then we would put the pleated table linens under them and make mini skirts out of it. And that was actually the first thing I sold, when I was 14. I decided not to go to school anymore. I was going to be a super famous designer, so I didn’t need school! [Laughing.] And my mom was completely freaking out! I sold them in 7 days. We made fifty or so. They sold really quickly, but then, yeah, it stopped and I had to go back to school. Basically, it was a week off of school.

You had a vision though.

I started doing Amsterdam Fashion Institute, and they really didn’t accept the fact that I was cutting up clothes and they wanted me to make patterns and do all those kinds of things. And I was like, you know, fuck, I’m not going to do that. I transferred to the Geirrit Rietveld Academy. And they were supportive.

Somebody who actually sees you and gets it.

That’s super challenging to find. There are so many different opinions, especially in art schools. It’s terrible. There are always a few people who don’t understand, but you have to sort of shut those off.

What other projects do you have? You’re doing a lot in certain communities.

That’s super important for me. So, Sistaaz of the Castle, the transgender sex workers in South Africa, that’s my most important focus. We met them five years ago and we’re in very good contact with them. We created one collection together which was based on their personal style. And then we did a collaboration where we went through the process of physically creating pieces together. We asked them: If we had all the money in the world, what do you want to be? And they came up with some amazing stories. One friend, Sulaiga, created the idea of being a drug dealer in Miami. With all the money. She was like, ‘I want to have all the money in the world and I want to have a Ferrari and I just want to have dollar bills.’ So, we created a background with dollar bills. And I printed a dress. Because she also said, ‘Victoria Beckham is my style icon.’ I was like, oh shit, how am I going to do Victoria Beckham? And then mix in drug dealer? So, we created a dress and then printed some cocaine leaves. So great. And then there’s Joan Collins, she’s the oldest from the group. She’s 75 and she is so sweet. Her biggest dream was to get married. She told me ‘I’m a trans woman, I will never be able to marry, that’s not possible.’ We made her this huge wedding gown! We did rings and everything. I think that was really a good aspect, also—to see their abilities with imagination. This is a form of survival. It went so well! One of the girls, Gabby, ran away when she was 14 years old from Victoria with her boyfriend at the time. When she arrived in Cape Town, she was basically alone. She became a part of the group, and when there was some press about our collaboration, we received an email from Gabby’s sister, saying, ‘Hey, I think this is my sister. We have been missing her for more than 15 years!’ Now, she’s living back with her parents in Victoria. And they accepted her. It was so amazing.

That’s incredible.

Their voices are being heard louder, now. It’s so important. That was our main focus: Putting those girls on the map and amplifying their voice. They’re really in this power mode. And we’ve got the money now to do a show next year. In the castle. They live around the Castle of Good Hope, and we’re going to open up the castle to do the show. We’re breaking in! So that’s really my heart. We speak to them a lot on Facebook. We’re trying really to evolve it into something where they can do their own collections. Like, open a shop in Cape Town. Or try to find ways.

A future.

It’s a love. It’s a really tough world. Somehow, you always think in the twenty-first century, that it will be different or easier, but it’s really not. So, we’re going to do amazing things together.