When Lieve Vermeire decided in 1979 'to work for her own account', as she puts it, she had no idea what awaited her. She soon found that her road to craft was paved with commercial bumps and hollows, but she finds it very mind-broadening to be involved in the entire production process from beginning till end.
Initially, she wished to become a visual artist when she finished her schooling at St. Lucas, Ghent, but because of more realistic considerations and of course out of interest, she chose for the applied art form of textile design. At that time, it was not very evident to practice this profession as a selfemployed worker. In 1981, she participated in the Design Fair in Amsterdam with a portfolio of textile designs on paper and a number of samples of fabric. Lieve Vermeire sold nothing in Amsterdam. Confronted with the fact, in her stubbornness she decided to produce only those products that she took a personal interest in. She therefore turned to screen printing on textile, a technique which bears close resemblances to the art of painting and by means of which she could give form to her inspiration. Subsequently, Lieve Vermeire gradually set up a large screen printing workshop in the blacksmith works at her home. She acted very consciously, creating her fabrics herself in order to keep control over the end results. She opted for producing modern-day handicrafts, a challenge which turned out well. But the problem of selling her products remained. If she was to put them on the market, it meant that she had to go on the road herself and - willingly or unwillingly - take on the distribution side of the business. A self-employed designer does not only need a great deal of talent for design, he or she also needs an understanding of the market and of sales strategies. But over the years, she had developed her own distribution channels. It was a period of hard work combined with the odd job as a choir singer in the radio choir.
Possessed by brightening up the world.
Until 1990, Lieve left sample books in exclusive fabric shops at home and abroad like all editors do. During those years, she lived exclusively from orders placed by interior decorators or by cooperating with fashion designers.
By examining a few fabrics from that period, we can gain some insight into their nature. Her's is a non-conformist search for unexploited territory. It is an answer to mass production which no longer contains the applied and monumental aspects of craft. In the early eighties, she began using a visual concept based on artistic painting techniques and developed her own graphic style. Lines, brush strokes and touches were the subjects of these fabrics.
Using this style, she tried to develop designs which, on the one hand, were difficult to produce industrially, but were still feasible for production using traditional screen printing. They contained 'brushings' with gradations and overlaps in black and white, as well as her most successful fabrics (photo 1). The fabric called "Rain" (photo 2) is characterised by the irregularities in its brush strokes. Clotilde Bacri, a stylist from Paris, used it when designing the interior decoration for her own home. There are fabrics with scribbled drawings, graffiti, primitive cave paintings and calligraphic motifs. These seemingly simple drawings appealed to stylists when drawing up their new collections. The Paris-based fashion designer Elisabeth Senneville used the fabric "Flash" (photo 3) which is full of irregular rhythms in creating a trouser suit for her 1981 collection. The fabrics which sold best where those were the touches, the brush strokes and the graphics or lines overlapped each other. This style not only alludes to Japanese fabric in its austerity and graphics, it also evokes African cloth through its expressive contrasting colours. In 1982, she presented her first printed fashion collection at the Design Centre of Brussels together with the stylist Sabine Seitz.
In order to promote her new collections, she organized shows at her home. In 1985, she exhibited folding screens and in 1986 kimonos. She considers folding screens as a particular challenge. They allow her fabrics to speak for themselves instead of being subordinate to the overall decoration like in upholstery or in fashion, for the matter. Some of the folding screens were equipped with sharp ends on purpose in order to suggest that they could be fixed to the ground like real windscreens. Here too, Lieve limited herself to two colours and black for her designs. A sunny yellow and azure blue for one tissue which simultaneously refers to a classic tent cloth and caricatures the drape of a curtain (photo 4). In the case of another folding screen, she stylized the movement of the drape by using sky-blue and rose-red stripes, which she outlined using black lines (photo 5). In yet another folding screen, Lieve once again experimented with optical effects. This optical effect aimed at creating a contrast between matter - tissue painted in black - and void. It seemed as if one could look right through the screen. Its somewhat voyeuristic effect is enhanced by the waves, which gradually become smaller and change into small stylized fishes (photo 6). This slightly Japanese motif occurs repeatedly in her cloth designs, e.g. in "Fifty". By the end of the eighties, her graphic motifs were replaced by caricatural "classics" such as the 'rocailles' (photo 8), stylized amphoras, garlands and flowers. They can be considered as caricatures which transform these classical decorative motifs by using humour.
An early and also deceptive example is her print of a nineteenth-century exotic garden. From a distance, one can see palm trees, pillars and natives. On approaching, one decerns the personal handling and repetition of certain motifs which have been printed one on top of the other, as well as the shifts in the image and the application of graphic effects (photo 11). In the nineties, Lieve started collecting baskets from all types of cultures. This collector's mania inspired her to design a new collection of fabrics in which she tried to distance herself from recognizable motifs. "Leaves" (photo 12) and "Branches" are two examples. They both represent fragments of wickerwork, the one mainly referring to leafs, the other to branches. The motifs have been printed in white on a very rough linen cloth. Their two-tone effect creates a sense of optical illusion. The motif imitates its support. it is as if one is looking at the weave though a magnifying glass. Fabric and motif become one. Lieve Vermeire thus closes the circle of fabric creation.
Possessed by adorning.
By the beginning of the nineties, Vermeire increasingly turned to designing scarfs and not only through silk screening. She felt she was limited in her artistic freedom by her clients' orders for curtain and upholstery fabric. The continuous routine of screen printing conflicted with her love of experiment. She wanted to leave the yardages behind and return to single pieces. She now began using the cut-aways which had so inspired her when creating her folding screens, in the scarfs. As such, scarfs are independent products. Although they are produced in limited editions, they seem unique. Lieve did not make it easy on herself. After having set up a distribution system for her upholstery and curtains, she had to start from scratch again. In the world of fashion, scarfs are still treated unfairly as a type of fashion highlight, while - because of their contemporary formal language - Lieve's scarfs really belong to the 'parure' as the French so nicely put it. It is part of the zeitgeist to design fashion accessories like jewellery and other adornments. In this context, we are reminded of the hats by Elvis Pompillio for example or the gloves by Sylvie Louagie. Lieve totally revived her talent in the pleasant occupation of designing pretty scarfs. Yet, the economic recession and the reticence of shopkeepers once again confronted her with the facts of life. Moreover, part of that reality was the concept of packaging and labels, not to mention realistic prices.
Lieve Vermeire easily follows the course of the seasons typical of the fashion scene. In her winter collection, she works with black woollen fabrics (photo 13 a, b, c). She cuts and stitches together all kinds of geometrical surfaces in different colours. She continues to play with the idea of cut-aways and her scarfs often carry surface crenations. The trompe l'oeil holes in her screens have become real holes. The graphics is no longer handled by means of the print, but through the surface distribution of the scarf. "I am experimenting with other techniques in order to give the fabrics more independence. Thanks to techniques like cutting, application and embroidery, the motifs are no longer the result of printing and painting, but of the form of the cloth itself", says Lieve Vermeire. In her most recent summer collection, she continues her play with the concept of holes. She takes two veils in different 'poisonous' colours and attaches them by stitching together the positively cut away circles. In these scarfs, she continues to play with transparency by also cutting away a circle in different parts, the simple veil thereby letting the opposite colour shine through. Lieve Vermeire dyes her veils herself because, in this manner, she has more impact on the subtleness of the colour. It is her new 'dada', because currently she is devouring everything she can lay her hands on about the science of dying and colouring. Traditional Japanese painting techniques such as "shibouri" and the bleaching of coloured surfaces also play a role in her designs. They are not just simply copied, but are used to highlight the graphics. Sometimes too, she sews in funny little motifs with loose seams which give her scarfs a playful note. (scarf B)
In her try-outs for the next winter collection (1995), she has gone further in the technique of stratified cloth. First, Lieve carves notches in two equally sized matt-coloured pieces of cloth. She works these pieces until they are totally felted. Then she takes a sharply coloured woollen rectangle and sews the felted pieces to both ends of it. The traditional methods she uses in this process give a surplus value to these scarfs. Lieve Vermeire remains faithful to her ambition of turning experimentation into her own personal style.