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How the Netherlands revived its education of craft tailoring

By Weixin Zha


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Back in 2011, the Dutch National Opera & Ballet had a problem: it couldn’t find any local talent when looking for high-quality tailors. This realisation gave birth to Meesteropleiding Coupeur, a private school with a goal to revive the craft of tailoring. And so far it looks like it’s been successful, with past graduates having worked with Dutch designer-duo Viktor & Rolf, denim label G-Star Raw, and the National Opera & Ballet.

This Saturday, the institution, situated in a former red-brick school building in the west of Amsterdam, will host another Open Day to introduce prospective applicants to its six workshops and education system. Long hallways connect the ateliers with sewing machines and large tables, displaying works of past students, like a majestic all-white Elizabeth costume with a star-shaped standing collar used in the play Maria Stuart.

Crafting perfection

”Everything is about quality,” director of the school, Roger Gerards, told FashionUnited. In order for students to excel as master tailors in their craft, the education is rigorous. After admission, the most essential basic techniques are taught for half a year. Sometimes, students may have to repeat different parts of a garment 20 to 30 times until the teacher approves, Gerards said. “This half year really shapes the basic mentality of the students. They strive for perfection.”

After mastering the basics, students then learn to make whole garments and will specialize with two master tailors in either menswear and womenswear. Gerards also emphasised the importance of the workshop environment in providing students with sufficient space to practice the craft of tailoring.

“We don’t design, we only make” Gerards said, stressing the difference between tailors and designers, as well as the difference between the training at his institution versus a common higher-education fashion school. The students learn techniques to make clothes with their hands and with machines, but they never design, market or illustrate as other schools do nowadays, he says.

The sober almost ascetic training of the makers behind flamboyant costumes and intricate corsets showcased on the last Open Day in November, is perhaps best embodied in the silent garden of the school, where students sometimes take their lunch. “It’s very important for a craftsman to have silence to focus on making,” says Gerards.

About Meesteropleiding Coupeur:

  • Courses & costs: fulltime 7000 euros per year | part-time: 3950 euros per year | prices for evening & weekend courses, masterclasses vary
  • Current number of students: 72
  • Address: Jan Maijenstraat 11-15, 1056 SE Amsterdam
  • Funding: 80 percent from fees, 20 percent from Meester Koetsierfonds, Vakraad Mitt and paid projects with institutions such as International Theater Amsterdam, National Opera & Ballet, Strawberries fashion, Diligence Tailors, Vlisco Netherlands B.V., Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds and others

So how do students who might have dreamt about entering the glamorous world of fashion experience these very down-to-earth teachings? “I heard so many times: ‘maybe try it again?’” said 23-year-old Lidewij Plaat, when reminded of the moments teachers measured her work and asked for a re-do. “But it’s necessary. Craft is the base of everything. You can have a good imagination but you have to know how to translate it into clothes,” said Plaat, who graduated in 2018 from the fulltime-womenswear track. She most enjoyed the school projects working for museums, the stage or fashion designers where she could finally see her work displayed.

Students keep a meticulous journal of the pieces they make throughout their training. Hoover over the image to discover more.

How the Netherlands revived its education of craft tailoring

Photo: Meesteropleiding Coupeur | FashionUnited

Much needed skills

The training equips students with valued knowledge and skills of clothes and pattern making and opens many doors in the fashion world. Besides the fulltime and part-time training, the school also offers classes for beginners and masterclasses for people with experience.

The next step for Roger Gerards is to work more with the commercial fashion industry which has outsourced most of its production and skills to the Far East in past decades. The school hosts a Fit Studio with different European body models by U.S. company and fit expert Alvanon, which is also open to fashion companies that want to improve their fits.

The rediscovery of craft could serve as an inspiration amidst currently mass-produced garments. Tailor-made, high-quality clothes with a personal signature of the maker could offer a worthy alternative to widespread anonymous garments that are quickly discarded and at the core of today’s unsustainable fashion industry, according to Gerards. “Craft is now again in the picture as an answer and to give another way of looking at the business and supply chain of fashion.“

Pictures: Meesteropleiding Coupeur / FashionUnited

Meesteropleiding Coupeur