Joel Janse Van Vuuren’s Wearable Art


In less than two years, this creative mind who leaves everything to chance, has shown how fine art can become wearable.

Can art training be a foundation for designing women’s clothing? Van Vuuren feels it’s the perfect place to find inspiration for his range of elegant and ultra- feminine dresses. Using the chaotic patterns and colours of the Rorschach test he has created, “Order out of chaos” as he likes to remind his admirers.

The Rorschach test, also known as the inkblot test, is a psychological test in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation. It has traditionally been employed by psychologists to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly. From these random inkblots that Van Vuuren creates, a dress is born.


Surrounded by creativity, art books and an artist father when growing up, the foundation of Van Vuuren’s flair for creativity was assured. A two year gap year in Europe, where he worked at the Topshop flagship store in London, convinced him that fashion was the right outlet for his creative talent. Surrounded by clothing styles, colour and textures made him realise that fashion was not too far removed from painting – and you could wear it!

“I developed an artistic style in my teens with drawing, painting and sculpture and see fashion as a natural extension of my creativity,” explains Van Vuuren. “During my degree year studying fashion I spent much time examining deconstruction, a concept introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1960s, which basically aims to explain something through its relationship with various contexts.”

Award winning Japanese designers Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto are two people Van Vuuren greatly admires, both who’ve been bold with experimentation in form and colour. He can relate to Issey Miyake especially, who also had an early career as a graphic designer before moving into fashion. Art still has an overiding influence on Van Vuuren, who’s imagination has been fanned by the artwork of early 20th century Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, who’s erotic subjects almost dissolve in a riot of pattern and the romantic mood of  Pre-Raphaelite painting, where majestic brunettes with cupid-bow lips gaze whimsically at each other across forest-bound streams.

His most current infatuation is with Polish fantasy artist Zdzislaw Beksinski, who avoided concrete analyses of the content of his work, saying “I cannot conceive of a sensible statement on painting”. He was especially dismissive of those who sought or offered simple answers to what his work ‘meant’.

So too, does Van Vuuren’s creations, which are based on chance and the unknown during the conceptual stage, with his finished product having an elusive quality that defies an easy contextual fix.

Does his work run the risk of being nice to look at but unpractical to wear, as other experimental labels often fall victim? “It’s a fine balancing act. My designs have a sense of the abstract and asymetrical about them but at the same time are very wearable. Women who wear my dresses have told me they feel good in them, so I guess my formula works.”

Van Vuuren does not follow trends and admits to glancing at fashion magazines only occasionally to see what others are doing. He sees a repetition and interpretation of old styles being turned out in cycles, with not much innovation. There’s always the potential to create something brand new and create a trend from it and this is where Van Vuuren hopes to shine. His fascination of the unknown and the role of chance in his designs is perfectly suited to him. The current trend towards tight, body-fitting garments which are made from more unforgiving fabrics doesn’t bother him at all. In fact, he sees this as a natural part of what fashion is about.

“This is the fantastic thing about fashion. As with many other things in life, we have this huge range of different looks from which we can choose an individual style. Many styles can coexist together happily,”  explains Van Vuuren.

“Intelligent fabrics will also definitely have a place in how fashion will evolve in the 21st century, although the South African market lags behind access to these fabrics for now. Another interesting theme is the effect of globalisation on fashion trends. While the single global village idea is an appealing one and has created a unified ‘look’ among many fashion labels, an interesting thing to note is how an individual identity has become more coveted than ever,” muses Van Vuuren.

With a persons individual style driven by a desire to look unique and to reflect a distinct personality to the world, this creates the fantastical idea that the potential might exist for a unique look for every person on the planet – seven billion to be exact.


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