VanElse by Else Hardjopawiro

1. How would you describe your designs to someone who has never seen them?

My designs are intended for all types of women, small, big, tall, short, colored and so on. In my designs, I use geometric lines and shapes, which I owe to my background in spatial planning. It is in this way that my designs accentuate the strongest characteristics of my customers. Even though the designs often seem very simple, it is crucial to note that nothing could be further from the truth. The elaboration of my designs requires a high degree of spatial insight.

Photographer not sure if it was Vogue or the Guardian at the premiere of Absolutely Fabulous the Movie

2. What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I have been very fortunate with the plenty of highlights I witnessed in my career as a designer.

The first highlight was the presentation of my very first summer collection (2016) during Africa Fashion Week London in 2015. This has given Vanelse attention in the fashion industry. The Vanelse brand was already seen as an Upcoming new brand and received attention in various magazines worldwide, including in the Netherlands where the fire started. Well-known TV stars, sportspeople and singers in the Netherlands have been on the cover of magazines wearing vanElse.

I have had the opportunity to travel to many places. As a result of the attention in the magazines, I was subsequently approached by the agent of a very famous drag queen in London La Voix to design something for her to wear on the golden carpet at the premiere of Absolutely Fabulous The Movie. This premiere received worldwide media attention while the drag queen wore my design, alongside well-known movie stars such as Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders. The most beautiful photos appeared on tabloids and in many magazines. I was very proud.

Subsequently, I was fortunate to receive an award as a designer during my shows in Sochi and Moscow. Another wonderful moment was my participation in New York Fashion Week Runway in Capetown South Africa 2019. This was truly one of the best fashion shows I could have participated in as a designer as there was a lot of media coverage.

In 2020, vanElse was used during a photoshoot for a magazine in London, with the Former Princess of Luxembourg, who is also a businesswoman and entrepreneur. Unfortunately, I could not be there in person, however, my friends in London were able to make this happen for me after I sent the items for the shoot.

3. What kind of statement do your pieces make? What do your pieces say about the women who wear them?

My garments transmit a message. By accentuating the strongest female accents, I show that every woman is beautiful. My designs are there to give them a more powerful look than they already have. For me personally, there is a magical inner beauty in every woman, which I want to bring out with my clothing.

My clients are mainly successful businesswomen, but my clientele is not limited to only that (it also includes singers, actresses and TV personalities). The woman wearing vanElse comes from everywhere around the globe.

Right: Pure London #Photographer Monika Schaible
Left: Pure London #Photographer Monika Schaible


4. How long does it take you – from initial idea to finished product – to create one of your designs? Can you tell us a bit about your process?

Drawing a design doesn’t take much time for me if I am honest. Sometimes it takes half an hour and sometimes an hour because I have to color them. It takes me more than a day to develop the design into a pattern. I have tried to go through this process with a company that has experience in creating patterns, but as I said before; my designs are quite difficult to work out and realize.

It is for that reason and the fact that I require perfectionism in each and every piece, that I have decided to develop the patterns myself and to grade them into larger sizes by the company. Making a sample also takes me a day. Many of my designs require a lot of manual work and spatial and technical insight. All in all, from design to sample, it takes about 3 days to create a design.

5. What are you inspired by?

In my work as a designer, I am inspired by architecture, colors, lines, shapes and everything that lives as I like people and animals. It can, of course, not be denied that my cultural background also plays a role. Born of Indonesian parents, raised in Suriname / South America and now living in the Netherlands. All I can say is that I am fortunate to have such a rich and cultural past. When I was a CEO, I worked on very large projects such as science parks, level crossings and the realization of shopping centers. I must admit that I inherited my spatial and technical insight from my father and uncle, who were both architects when they were still alive.

In 2012 I said goodbye to my successful career as a CEO to pursue my dream. A dream I had since I was 8 years old. To become a designer and now, now I am living my dream.

Left: photographer Govert de Roos
Right: New brand By_Vanelse in collaboration with Sonna International #phographer Roderick Leon London

6. What is it about African designs that draw you in?

When I started in 2014, I was looking for vibrant and sparkling colors. My daughter made me aware of a shop in Antwerp that sells African fabrics. This was the first time that I had contact with Sonna International, a fabric supplier with headquarters in Belgium, and stores in New York, Washington DC, Paris, London and Antwerp. The CEO was so amazed and enthusiastic about my designs that we went straight to business. We agreed that if I could provide the window display for their stores, they would sponsor me in return with fabrics and participation in a variety of fashion weeks.

This agreement has now grown and we have decided to further develop the collaboration. A new brand is born: By_Vanelse for Sonna Supreme Wax, a ready-made brand for affordable African print clothing. Do note that this line is not only available for women, but also for men. The intention was to launch the brand in the spring of 2020. However, and rather unfortunate, Covid threw a spanner in the works and we had to stop production. But don’t forget our (Dutch) saying: what is in the barrel does not sour. This year we hope to be able to launch the brand worldwide, online and in the stores of Sonna International.

7. How has COVID-19 changed your process in the fashion industry?

As stated before, Covid made me delay the launch of By_vanelse. Everything came to a halt before the Vanelse brand as well because I could no longer have physical contact with customers. I also had to stop my activities abroad, which was true pain. Brexit has also not really helped to expand my business in London as I have put my activities in the United Kingdom on hold until further notice.

Shipping abroad became much more expensive due to Covid and I have to charge higher costs to a customer if I send a package outside of Europe.

8. Is there a milestone you have to determine that you’ve made your wildest dreams come true? What is it?

Absolutely. Within now and 5 years my By-vanelse ready-made brand will (also) be a worldwide success. Hopefully, something will change worldwide within 5 years, making it easy for me and everyone to travel again.

I’m not worried about Vanelse, the brand. Customers know where to find me if they want something tailor-made and exclusive. I am happy to disclose that my VanElse ready-to-wear collection also remains a success.

Left: Photographer Roderick Leon Kingsroad Chelsea London

9. What words of wisdom can you give towards someone in living a passion-filled life?

Besides all my day-to-day duties, I also coach young girls who have the ambition to become active in the fashion world. If possible, I take them to fashion events so that they can gain experience, feel the tension behind the scenes and experience the satisfaction if the show is a success.

My advice to young girls is always: be yourself, don’t try to imitate someone else and stay true to who you are in your own authentic way. Never let anyone take your dream away.

As an example, I will use my own experience when I started in the fashion world. A woman without fashion training, without fashion experience, and at a not too young age for that matter, but with a passion for designing and creating beautiful things, it was all possible. I just had to believe I could. Many who were active in the fashion world advised me not to take this step because I would be too old without experience. Look at me now, successful and living my dream. All those who advised against following my dream now have something to look up to. There are no words to possibly describe the enjoyment I get from it.

10. What is your favorite piece that you’ve designed so far (photos please!), and what is so intriguing about it?

I have many favorite pieces. But there will always be special designs that I cherish, namely:

1. The design for the drag queen in London to be worn during the golden carpet at the premiere of Absolutely Fabulous the Movie;
2. Design for a gay activist to wear during the gay parade in Amsterdam on pink Sunday
3. Designing an exclusive wedding outfit for a customer in Amsterdam.
4. Designing a gala outfit for a special customer from Johannesburg
All exclusive pieces came alive due to a story, the story behind the people who wear it and what they wanted to feel when wearing it.

11. You are also a masterful painter. Do you find your skills in painting translate into your fashion designs? How does this separate you from other designers?

That’s correct, indeed. When I resigned as CEO, I wasn’t sure which path to walk. I have 3 big passions; drawing/painting, fashion design and cooking. I painted for a year and now have 24 paintings that I am very proud of. There are many potential clients that are very interested and want to buy a painting but I have decided to keep them to myself. For me, these works are my moments of reflection that ultimately led me to make a choice in regards to the path I wanted to walk. I chose to become a fashion designer, and trust me I don’t regret it, I am living my dream.

However, the painting brush is part of my life. In my paintings and drawings, you can see the signature of VanElse; beautiful clean lines, geometric shapes and soft accents. That’s how I look at the beauty of women. Not only the appearance is important to me, but the inner strength that resides in every woman is what truly fascinates me.

I am not sure what separates me from other designers. I am not trying to be someone else. Just being me, passionate about beauty and life.

12. How can your fans follow you and stay up to date on your newest ventures?

You can find me on:

Else Hardjopawiro
On Instagram

13. What can we look forward to in 2021?

We can look forward to the worldwide and online launch of my ‘By_vanelse readymade’ brand, which has been made possible in collaboration with Sonna International. The launch should take place this year.

I’m not sure what the future will bring for Vanelse, or the world, partly in view of Covid. I have received a number of invitations to major shows worldwide, but have decided to hold off for a while and at least until borders are opening. At this moment in time, I am more focused on 2022 and I have every confidence that everything will work out.