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FREE TO BE: Benjamin Aerts

Amsterdam’s young stylist talks dream collaboration, privileges of freedom, and Marie Antoinette.

This autumn, Europe’s leading online fashion retailer Zalando set out to champion real people and real stories with the empowering Free To Be campaign. Joining in on their pursuit of upholding self-expression every step of the way, Glamcult has invited four ascending localcreatives to share what freedom to be means to them.

So far we had been lucky enough to quiz up-and-coming DJ Mario Nawaz and multitalented ex-model Romy De Vries. Next in our line up of red-hot young talents is Benjamin Aerts. Transforming his passion for clothes from a hobby into a full-fledged career in fashion, Benjamin has established himself as the stylist to watch. Based in the Dutch capital, Benjamin’s at the core of the Amsterdam’s radical creative family of young movers and shakers determined to subvert the status quo one look, party, or artwork at a time. Nevertheless, he’s always looking outwards and up, painfully aware of the fact that being oneself unapologetically is often a privilege, not a given right. Working as both the talent and the stylist for this shoot, Benjamin is a perfect embodiment of the Free To Be mission.

So, today you’re both a stylist and one of the talents, how does that feel?

It’s quite a fun experience, as I have never done it before.  And, to be honest, I do like dressing myself.

How and when did you get into styling?

I guess I’ve been into styling for a long time. As a child, I always used to dream up and sketch these fantasy characters, and because of that I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. As I found out, that was something, which I maybe didn’t want, so I started making these free work projects with a friend and later solo, using mostly only my own clothing. Gradually it became more serious, and thankfully it’s not a just a hobby anymore.

 What was your favourite styling job so far?

This is a bit of a tough question, but seeing as I am quite a junkie for historic art, I might say a shoot that I did last winter, also for Glamcult. We were shooting in a very big country house in the Netherlands, and I really enjoyed tapping into all these references that I got from what I know about costume history. Our cast of models also solely consisted of people of colour, which was important, because there are very few historic images in Western Europe where people of colour are portrayed in such a fashion. Plus, I got to use a lot of antique jewellery, which is also an obsession of mine!

What and who inspires you the most these days?

I’ve always gotten a lot of inspiration from books and historic paintings, but these days I feel quite inspired by regular people’s lives, stories that I can actually relate to.

Who would you like to collaborate with and why?

I’d really like to work with photographers like Oliver Hadlee Pearch or Joyce Ng. But, my ultimate dream would be working together with Sophia Coppola—I love how she always creates these whimsical, dream-like and melancholic worlds.

Living, dead, real people or characters, who are some of your style icons?

And why?

I think Marie Antoinette, or just generally women from her time. I get a lot of inspiration from that time period. I do really like the opulence, the symbolic references and, of course, the jewels.

What would you never be caught dead wearing?

Never say never, as I have proven myself wrong many a time, but I don’t see myself wearing really low-waisted pants.

What are you most proud of?

That’s a difficult question. I guess maybe my development, and then being able to do things and feel more secure and sure about myself than before.

What is, in your eyes, the future of fashion?

I think that style and fashion will increasingly become a personal matter, because so many people now get to pick their own references from so many different places. I do hope the industry becomes less fleeting and more sustainable, because it clearly isn’t.

What does free to be mean to you?

For me, my identity is quite important. It’s also something that has taken a while to grow into and appreciate about myself, and I’m really glad that I do appreciate it now. So, being free means being free to express yourself and be authentic.

Do you feel entirely free to be?

Sometimes, within the bubble that is Amsterdam, when I am surrounded by my family, friends and likeminded people, I feel so comfortable that it almost feels like it. Yet there are too many people in the world who are just like me who don’t have the privilege of being themselves, at all. With that knowledge, I can never feel entirely free.

Concept and words by Glamcult
Photography by Laila Cohen
Styling by Benjamin Aerts
Hair & Make-up by Cynthia Schippers




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