In conversation with Jessica van Halteren
Photography by Woody Bos
With the Red Light district as her stomping ground, Jessica van Halteren has always found inspiration in the swirling chaos and human connectivity of the area. A complete trailblazer in the fashion and art world, she creates objects that unite opposites and transcend the understood. Upon graduating from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in 2018, van Halteren quickly founded the multidisciplinary design studio and fashion label Mulas Hybrid Haus. Her goal? To reimagine the narratives around fashion and to create new perspectives on the creative process. Instead of focusing on the end goal, van Halteren insists that we turn the creative creation into a hybrid model. By combining classically used materials with new practices and ways of thinking, she aims to do just that. In this way, sustainability is essential to her, creating with materials that she already has rather than merely consuming more. We spoke with the eccentric and evocative designer in light of her new collaboration with the Dutch brand BRONX. The pair have officially teamed up, bringing together heritage and innovation in this one-of-a-king duo. Designing with the BRONX archive as a starting point, we picked Jessica’s thoughts, diving not only into her creative journey – but the collaborative path she has currently undergone. The shoe? A knockout! So keep your eyes peeled ?
MULAS HYBRID HAUS is eccentric in nature with a hedonistic/ pleasure-focussed aesthetic. What inspired this lens into fashion?
Whenever I work on new designs, I aim to look at people or environments that are very close to me. I love the tension between everything that moves on the borderline of what is considered “beautiful” or “ugly”. Fashion for me starts and ends on the streets, in crowds, with people that challenge themselves through trial and error. I find inspiration by being surrounded by eccentricity and authenticity.
You began the brand after graduating from AMFI in 2018. How did your studies impact your goals in creating Mulas Hybrid House?
It wasn’t the study itself that impacted my goal to work independently. It was mainly the people I met throughout my studies that motivated me to follow my own path and move away from the traditional fashion system. Nevertheless, during my studies, I did learn to work on tight deadlines and under time pressure. When I graduated, I knew there was no other path for me than to go work for myself and pursue my own vision of what a designer should be or do. To be honest, I think anyone with discipline and courage can pursue their goals, you don’t need to study for that.
A simple question – but – where did the name come from?
During my graduation, I was looking for a working title for my final collection. My designs back then were very much about developing a new human body that was a mix between objects and flesh-and-blood bodies. Mules are the only mixed-breed animals that can reproduce, I thought that was pretty cool. I also wanted to create a brand name other than my own name, so I just stuck with it. Now people sometimes call me Mulas, I think that is quite funny. I try hard to stay anonymous, but apparently, people always stick to the idea that a designer calls their brand after themselves.
Photography by Appie Bood
You describe the brand as “hybrid wear” could you explain to me what that means to you?
Clothing is often considered to be static and like humans, people stereotype clothing pieces like suits are made of wool or: latex is erotic. Every day, I want to push myself to move away from those given functions or applications. By designing hybrid wear, I just remind myself constantly to give new meaning to material and shape. The idea that everything can become anything and there is no end to a design circle is what keeps me sharp and open to unexpected results. Hybrid wear to me is a fluid design approach in which the outcome is not certain till the very end.
In this transcendence of the fashion narrative, is the goal to bring a new narrative? And if so, what?
Narrative to me is as important as my designs, it is what brings my ideas alive and gives meaning to what I make. I often consider myself a storyteller, using fashion as a tool to do so. Therefore I do not only present collections, those collections are always part of bigger projects, like the films I made with Mila V. If you think of fashion, it’s most of the time created for a certain relevance. But in my work, I look at what is interesting, what gives tension, and which story or mindset is worth to be brought alive. Putting it into words by presenting narratives through fashion, in any shape possible.
The lifecycle of clothing is also integral to the brand, in both production and design. Why is this important in today’s landscape?
This is also part of the hybrid approach I aspire to with MHH. There is so much clothing that we could easily produce new stuff from what is already there. Mainly I think that we should be aware of the fact that the world is overloaded. Instead of just making, I think we should give more meaning to what we make in order to justify producing more.
This collaboration with Bronx is super exciting! How did this pairing begin?
When the Bronx design team went through the design archive, they found a sole construction that was never taken into production. They wanted to re-introduce it through a special collaboration. It was such an honour when they approached me to have a look at the UPP-DATE and design three styles to bring new life to this archive piece.
The concept is three sandals designed around the Bronx UPP-DATE sole. Was the sole the initial inspiration point for you as a designer? Or something you later included?
The design process definitely started with the UPP-DATE sole. It was the main inspiration and a challenge to bridge this style with my own vision. Departing from something that has value and soul already was a special starting point. It was extra special because it was the first time I got the opportunity to design shoes.
It’s such an interesting shape – almost sculptural. Could you talk me through the design process? There’s such an interesting contrast between the ‘wave-like’ sole and the gladiator-esque ankle wraps.
I agree! The solid shape of the UPP-DATE sole was very interesting to start working from. The shape has something sensual, which stood out for me from the first moment I saw it. Often in my designs, I take elements from underwear/lingerie and specifically bring them to the outside. Looking at the sculptural shape, I wanted to design sandals that have a relation with the body and can be adjusted to different leg shapes. With soft leather straps that can be wrapped around the ankles or left away completely and details such as laces and rivets, each design can be worn differently, shaped by the wearer herself.
And now the world finally gets to see the shoe also! What feelings does this bring up?
It turned out to be such a great journey. Not only the designing part but also the campaign we made featuring beautiful women that really rock the designs. Everyone involved really contributed with so much passion and love, I can’t say anything else other than that I am feeling grateful.
Both MULAS HYBRID HAUS and BRONX are future-thinkers, however, you both have something unique to one another to bring to the table. What did you learn from BRONX in this collaboration, and what do you think they may have learned from you?
Bronx is a Dutch family company and unlike many brands, they stay very true to their heritage and origins. Nevertheless, Bronx is open to new forms of input and by giving a platform to designers like me, they embrace new ideas and visions. During the collaboration with Bronx, I learned a lot, too much to tell you all, but they definitely taught me to value heritage and to gain from mistakes. Vice versa, I think I brought in a fresh view on shoe design, coming from a fashion design background.
The future of MULAS HYBRID HAUS is looking bright. What are you manifesting for the brand this 2022?
Many beautiful projects in which I want to take my hybrid approach to fashion to the next level. A new collection presentation and more film projects are coming up soon.
And, for yourself, on a personal level?
My work and my personal life are just fully intertwined. I really enjoy how I can grow as a person and designer simultaneously and hope I can continue to challenge myself further in the coming year, surrounded by people that inspire me.
BRONX X MULAS HYBRID HAUS coming soon!
Photography by Woody Bos & Appie Bood
Words by Grace Powell