Surfers’ streetwear brand New Amsterdam Surf Association has teamed up with the Rijksmuseum to create a capsule collection of classic graphic t-shirts and new silhouettes, inspired by the 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

Paul Zeper, founder of the brand, choose to use the world’s most famous Dutch painter as a source of inspiration. The retrospective in his honor at the Rijksmuseum is the biggest exhibition of his work ever, tickets were sold out in a very short time. He has decided to focus on 3 of his masterpieces for the collection: ‘The Milkmaid’, ‘Woman Reading a Letter’, and ‘The Little Street’. We had the honor to meet him and talk about this creative collaboration.

How did you come up with the idea of creating a collection in honor of Vermeer for the New Amsterdam Surf Association? 

Actually, Rijksmuseum was always the starting point and when Rijksmuseum came to us for this collaboration and the fact that they were having this exhibition this year, it was the perfect timing to take some time and make research on Vermeer. That’s when everything fell into place and made sense. Our view of ‘real’ life and surfing is exactly what he portrays in his paintings. Everyday situations, not luxury, monarchs and people who could afford a painting. Real life.

Why did you choose these art pieces?

Personally, I see this as a collaboration with the Rijksmuseum rather than a collage of Vermeer, and we took the Vermeer pieces that belong to the Rijksmuseum.

How do you think Vermeer’s art fits in with surf culture?

Its daily life, daily Dutch weather and a form of realness. It’s not about luxury. Besides that, there is a lot of mystery within the paintings. I think almost the same kind as when we tell people we surf, and we get the answer back “But where do you surf in Amsterdam?” 

How does the Vermeer collection differ from previous New Amsterdam Surf Association collections? Did this collection allow you to step out of your comfort zone a bit? Like by exploring new fabrics, for instance, or new shapes. 

Definitely. The main idea point was to use Vermeer but change to canvas, which is the clothing pieces. By doing this all of a sudden you get different people that maybe don’t like his paintings to be interested in it because they do like certain garments or fabrics. The second was looking at taking details from what Vermeer was known for and blow them up. For example, Vermeer was known for his slightly more brutal style of painting, with thicker strokes. We took this thicker stroke and played around with a new embroidery technique to make a stroke on the cardigan. You could say that the base color is the color of the canvas, and the embroidered line is the first brushstroke towards making the Milkmaid painting.

What is your favorite piece in this collection? 

The Vermeer Blue Jacket. This is where we took the Woman in blue reading a letter painting and thought. How would we wear this blue rope if we were her. It’s our translation of her satin rope for our daily use.

How did you come up with the idea for the campaign, the modern twist of “the women reading a letter”?

We already had the idea of the jacket, so the first steps were there. But as we have Association in our name which stands for community this was the perfect moment to get all our team, friends and fam together. We used the phone because in the original painting, it’s about the mystery of the letter. For us, it’s the mystery behind the text message, or the surf webcam at Wijk aan Zee, or the weather forecast, who knows!

The models, who are members of New Amsterdam Association, are starring at their phone, while the Women in the Vermeer’s art piece was reading a letter. Is it a statement about our society and our dependency to our phones? 

Not really. I would love to be on my phone less, but it’s also the modern world that we live in now. Texts, calling, emails, checking the weather forecast you name it and those are just the ones without all the social media platforms.  With surfing being in the moment and with friends at the beach is all about being connected with each other without the phone and I think that is an amazing thing, but this campaign was not an anti-phone campaign (laughs).

An exhibition of this magnitude is a way of promoting the democratization of art and its accessibility, while surfing in the Netherlands is for the most daring surfers. You wrote on your website that the weather conditions here « leave room for only those who are truly passionate about surfing ». By using the medium of art, are you trying to be more inclusive? 

I think we as a brand and community are very open to everybody. Our lives are more in Amsterdam within party, art and fashion scenes then that we are on the beach. So, from the brands persective we are by surfers, but not only for surfers in that way. Art can definitely give people a different perspective of the brand in a positive way, but that was not the intention to use art. We just do stuff that we are surrounded by and feels very close to our heart. 

How do you see the future of the brand and the surf industry in general?

The surf industry is a hard one that I stopped focusing on after my professional windsurfing career. For the brand it just started. I would like New Amsterdam to be seen as that culture shift within surfing, where surfing can be fashion and urban and isn’t just about blue water and palm trees. And I think this idea should go across borders and take it to the US, Japan you name it. 

What are the main challenges you are facing as a fashion designer in the surf industry?

Timelines! I think the world is fixed on releases, buying seasons etc, so as soon as you get into that you are always working one year ahead. That can be hard. Sometimes you just want to make something and get it out there straight away.

Can you give us an overview of New Amsterdam Surf Association’s future projects after the Vermeer collection? Any other artistic collaboration planned?

At the moment, we are planning a few small things. We are hosting a magazine release in June at our showroom in Paris, with Acid Magazine from France. We are working on a collaboration with an Australian surf hardware brand, and we are talking to some other parties to see if we can work together in the future.

interview by MARIE-PAULINE CESARI @itsjustmp