Jeroen van Rooijen on Slicing Up Iconic Accessories

Jeroen van Rooijen
Kids will often pull apart Barbie dolls and cassette tapes to find out how they work, but it never occurred to us that you might apply the same concept some of fashion's most iconic garments and accessories.

In his new book, "Zerlegt," Swiss journalist Jeroen van Rooijen satisfies our secret fascination with seeing things reduced to their parts by taking a seam ripper to Macintosh trench coats, Converse sneakers -- even an Hermes "Kelly" bag (pictured in pieces above). The book is a compilation of items disassembled for his monthly column in Swiss financial newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, for which he's deconstructed literally hundreds of items since 2003.

In chopping up these masterpieces, van Rooijen investigates the craftsmanship, quality and origins of some of fashion's most familiar items. We caught up with the author to hear how the idea for "Zerlegt" came about, and how readers feel about seeing a $7,000 handbag in pieces.
How did the idea for "Zerlegt" come about?

"Zerlegt" means "disassembled." The idea came early 2003, when I discussed a new form of "style column" with Daniel Weber, editor of the FOLIO supplement magazine, which is distributed with NZZ [Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the Swiss financial newspaper for whom van Roijen writes].
We thought about opportunities to talk about fashion in a different way, going beyond the surface of things. When I mentioned my training as a designer and tailor, we soon had the solution: to cut classic garments and accessories up would give us a different angle.
Were you hesitant at all to deconstruct something as beautiful/valuable as Kelly bag?

To be honest, the Kelly bag was given to me by Hermès, they gave it as a kit. And I had to give back the pieces after studying and describing them. Many other things are indeed cut up from finished garments. But when things get very expensive, they are mostly given to me by the brands who produce them. So it does not "hurt" me personally. although it is of course sometimes a pity to "destroy" something beautifully made.
How have readers responded to the book so far?

It's interesting to hear a younger generation of fashion conscious people saying things like: "I did not know how much work is in such things." People do not know so much anymore about making clothes and accessories, they don't think about where the stuff comes from and how it's made. This book makes them aware that most items are actually made by man and have a history behind it.
How did you go about choosing the items you deconstructed?

Sometimes the items had to fit a general theme of the NZZ FOLIO magazine in which the monthly columns ran since 2003, so for example this July issue will feature a cycling shirt by Rapha from London, since the whole issue is about bicycles. But sometimes I choose them randomly, browsing through stores or the internet. The problem is, after roughly 100 columns, I have disassembled most items a few times by now, and it gets harder to find things I haven't cut up yet. Also, some manufacturers today don't even know very well where their stuff is made, so they hesitate to supply me with samples or to give a lot of answers about the production.
Is it a very time-consuming process?

Sometimes cutting up a well-made garment can take a few hours, yes - and then you have to add research time and writing it. But it's fun, mostly. And I still learn a lot about the cut and the making of clothes, which is my driving force.
How do you think the book might affect consumers, and how we look at luxury goods?

As I mentioned, people don't know a lot about sewing and making clothes anymore, they don't know how to handle a thread and a needle no longer. Maybe I can help to keep some interest in the craft alive. And maybe I can make people think different about the value of products. Because it is not always the most expensive things that are most well-made. On the other hand, not yet everything comes from China these days, and it does certainly not mean that things coming from there are necessarily poor quality. I have disassembled beautifully made things that were far too cheap for the amount of labour included.
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