Opinion | The Curtain Falls

Today’s story is one I do not like to tell, but as a fashion blogger, it’s one I feel that needs to be told in order to raise awareness. As you might’ve already heard, Belgium’s most famous hat designer Christophe Coppens, whose designs have been worn by Roisin Murphy, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, announced last week he has closed the books. Last Saturday he posted following farewell letter on his blog:

“At the dawn of the opening of my first shop in Paris and a new capital injection in June, I have nevertheless decided to stop all my activities as a designer and to close my company.

Because it is enough. Because the price is too high and the goal no longer justify the means. It all seems too much and at the same time too little.

It has always been difficult, all through my 21 years career as a designer, and difficult is ok. But the past years have been unbearable, and inhuman. One becomes something you are not.

Nothing follows as expected. Every part in the chain is having a rough time within this global crisis; banks no longer play their part as banks and factories can’t afford to take any risks which oblige them to requests 100% pre-payments from designers. Pre-financing, in combination with installment payments, and paying for the present is a combination mathematically impossible. Wages are no longer payable in Belgium, producing quality products in limited quantities almost impossible.

Fashion buyers are obliged to play it safe; mostly by choosing the accessories of the same clothing designers they already carry in store. Safer to be sold and delivered on time. Shops are looking for cheap products, gimmicks, or the hype of the moment. None of those can be applied to my collections, regardless my faithfull customers. It is a vicious circle I can’t find my way out of.

And when it comes to the product itself; my ideas are today way bigger than the end result where they are suppossed to fit in. Since many years it has been only about restraint, cut, omission, reducing, being careful. My lifelong dilemma between fashion and art seems impossible to reconcile with reality today.

I have almost lost who I am, always between what needs to be done and what is right to do. What remains is very little, and most of all, I work restrained to 1% of my talent. And this is no longer the life I want to live.
Today I’m taking a very hard decision, in the first place towards those who kept believing in me through the years, my faithfull staff members, my suppliers, my customers, my shareholders…the consequences are hard on every level, this will be a total deconstruction.
Thank you for your support the past 21 years.”

Of course I could refer to what I said earlier about people not wearing enough hats these days. But clearly this issue is bigger than CC’s case alone.

First Walter Van Beirendonck had to close up the shop and now this? So sad. And we’re talking some big names here. Designers whose talent has been recognized all over the world. It makes me wonder if there are more problems lingering under the surface in the Belgian fashion scene.

We all know these are rough times for everyone. But should we apply the every man for himself– rule when we consider fashion? Shouldn’t (some segments of) fashion be considered as art and therefore treated as such? I’m talking more legal protection for brand-specific designs, but also indirect financial support from the local government in the form of tax shelters as we already have in the local movie industry.
So, dear Belgian government, time is running out! If you still wish to list ‘fashion’ as an important branch of Belgian heritage, act now before all we have left is an empty box of what once was filled  with talent that amazed the world, season after season. The time is now!
Read more about fashion politics here (in Dutch).


  1. Michaël Vanderheeren
    May 8, 2012 / 7:14 am

    A tax shelter is in no way a long term solution to this problem. In fact it will only make it worse. These are great designers no doubt about that, but any of them are so creative that they are not focussed on business anymore. They need support to find new business models. Introducing a second, less arty, cheaper product apart from their current efforts could be a good way to go. But I understand that that is not a one second choice for a designer with such a background.

    Sadly enough you can compare it to the music industry. The needs of the people are different from what many show in the market. And in times like these it is hard to survive if you are a niche player. Contrary to the big players in music industry, a designer has almost no bargaining power when it comes to lobying.

  2. May 8, 2012 / 8:03 am

    you are so right Sté!!! this is a sad story and was this indeed the only solution?

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