• Holly

Jan Jansen, a Dutch shoemaker ahead of his time

Bijgewerkt op: mei 7

Hi I'm Holly, an illustrator living and working in The Netherlands and I'm thrilled that you're taking the time to read my blog! I will try not to waffle and to keep it interesting, if you're into art, culture, fashion, design or travel then you're in the right place. Predominantly this blog will be a mix of posts about my illustration work, things that inspire me and stuff happening in the fashion sector.


When I first started coming to Amsterdam as an eighteen year old English girl I knew little about Dutch culture and society. Twenty some years, a Dutch husband, a half Dutch son and several jobs later I am now well versed in my second homeland's values, whims and fancies. Through my work as an illustrator I am growing increasingly familiar with the fashion scene here in the Netherlands and I want to share some of my experiences and insights about it in this blog because for a small country there is a lot happening culturally.


Whilst there is so much that has been hard about lock-down during the corona pandemic of the past one plus years, something that stands out for me is not being able to go to galleries and exhibitions, like many people, I really miss them! So my first few blog posts will focus on the exhibitions there are to look forward to visiting as the world starts to open up again soon. There are always many good fine and applied art exhibitions on and one perk of the Lowlands is that nothing is too far of a drive away to prevent you from seeing them.

I mentioned visiting here from the age of eighteen and after going back and forth to visit my Dutch love for several years, I moved to live in Amsterdam when I was twenty-one. We called it 'the open air museum' and if you've ever visited here before you'll understand why. Once when my sister was staying, we were exploring the heart of the city and came across Jan Jansen's shoe shop on the Rokin. I believe my sister still has the pair of boots she bought that day, quite worn out now, at the back of her wardrobe. Little did we know what a huge household name Jan Jansen was in Dutch fashion design but the quality of the shoes was evident and I remember how querky and funky I found the designs. At the time I thought, this is something really Dutch, not what I was used to seeing on Carnaby Street and not like any Italian or French shoes I'd seen before. There were more boutique shops in the '9 streets' which we used to frequent, located between the Jordaan where we lived and the Centrum. The shoes in some of those shops also gave me that feeling, of being very different in design, but none were so striking or interesting as those Jan Jansen's.

Now to celebrate sixty years of his work as a shoemaker the Museum Jan in Amstelveen is hosting an exhibition of Jan's iconic shoes, together with the work of other Dutch designers, highlighting similarities between the processes and designs and emphasising his cross generational legacy. The exhibition features the work of other designers like Bas Kosters, Ronald van der Kemp and Karim Adduchi. Curated by Lisa Goudsmit, it should prove to be a real celebration of Jan’s craftsmanship, innovation and sense of humour. These are three watercolour sketches I've made of some of my favourite of his designs, the first a famous 'bamboo' wedge from 1973 (actually made from rattan), the second a fuscia high heel from 2006 and lastly a more recent design from 2017 called "X-Ray' shoe in collaboration with United Nude and which I believe is actually a 3D printed shoe.

I can't wait to go and see the exhibition. One of the things I've enjoyed reading the most about Jan is that he feels he has been so successful because he resisted being commercial, and credits that with the reason his designs stayed fresh and innovative, he says of his own work, “I think it’s fascinating to keep on doing new things, things no one has ever done before. My shoes are highly individual creations, because I don't think commercially. I just follow my intuition, because I’m not afraid of failure.”


For those of you in NL, the exhibition (would have opened on April 2nd) will open now on the 25th May. For more information about it you can follow this link to the museum: https://museumjan.nl/exhibitions And for those of you abroad, I hope you've enjoyed learning a little bit about a Dutch master shoemaker, if you're not familiar then perhaps you'll enjoy seeing more of his designs https://janjansen.com/


"Shoe designer Jan Jansen (Nijmegen, 1941) has thousands of designs to his name and is a fashion icon both at home and abroad. His shoe designs combine comfort and craftsmanship with innovative design, with a touch of humour. It makes perfect sense that Vogue Italia affectionately calls him "the crazy shoemaker". An explosive use of colours is characteristic of every shoe he creates. Jan Jansen is an intuitive designer and averse to fashion trends, which he expresses in organic, playful shapes and experimental use of materials. In 1973, for example, he designed his famous ‘Bamboo shoe’: a shoe with a high bamboo construction as a wedge heel. To minimise waste, Jan Jansen re-uses his lasts and leftover leather is processed into patchwork and details that adorn his shoes." - Museum Jan.