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Tastemaker Roundtable: AmsterdamArticle by: Veronica Baesso

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From Top Left Clockwise: Mirik Milan (photo credit: Philippe Vogelenzang), Nadia Duinker, James Veenhoff (photo credit: RVDA), Christine Van Den Bent.

Welcome to our interview series, Tastemaker Roundtable, an intimate conversation with global tastemakers. These are a select few of the people I meet  when I am travelling that drive the energy and creativity of their cities. I will be spending time with them in order to get a “behind the scenes” perspective on what motivates their work, what makes them tick, and ultimately what inspires them.

Our first edition is Amsterdam and we spent time with tastemakers:

– Christine van den Bent, Manager Communications at Fashion Week Nederland

– Mirik Milan, Night Mayor Amsterdam

– Nadia Duinker, Volkshotel Founder

– James Veenhoff, House of Denim Founder

The essence of being an influencer/tastemaker is creativity. How would you describe your creative process?

JV: Co-creation is probably a key word. I’ve learned that you can achieve remarkable and worthwhile stuff if you get in the key perspectives from the start, and build from there. The other big element is fun; I like things that are larger than life, iconic in nature. Although I’m not a designer I love to see ideas come to life through design so I try to be around great designers, fortunately there’s loads here in Amsterdam. Then also – I’ve recently heard -I put a lot of emphasis on seemingly trivial details.

ND:  I am lucky to work in a creative environment. Being surrounded by creative people feeds my own creative energy. New ideas are born, innovative concepts are created and interesting collaborations are established. Being open to ideas and feedback from others often helps in the end product. I believe  different points of view give very interesting insights into a creative process.

CVDB: My creative process starts with getting inspired, you could get inspired by many things or people. When something draws your attention and also makes you happy or gives you the feeling that it can mean something to others, that’s what we need to pass on. Time is an important element. A little pressure is good too, otherwise you would do nothing with the inspiration. So first comes inspiration, and then the pressure to do something with the inspiration.

MM: For me creativity is all about getting inspired. One thing will lead to another. As the Night Mayor of Amsterdam we always try to connect with other cities around the world. The night as a product is becoming more and more important for cities in their profiling. Having a good and vibrant nightlife is all about attracting young creative people. When I speak about nightlife I actually mean night culture, from small gallery openings to cultural nightly events till crazy parties. Places where creativity runs free. In Amsterdam a lot of talent gets developed in the nightlife scene. Think of all the photographers, graphic designers, musicians, dj’s, vj’s and like myself party promoters who start doing something and after a couple of years it turns into a business. This is why a good nightlife scene is so important for every city.

If you can share one piece of advice with your younger self, what would it be?

MM: Take it slow. Don’t rush into things and forget about yourself. My slogan has always been work hard, party hard. Working hard is good. But also it’s good to be happy with what you have accomplished. When I was 25 I was the production manager of an EDM festival, Dance Festival as we call it, with over 10,000 visitors. I thought I had to do it all by myself. Now I know that is just insane and we do events of that size with a team.

ND: Never underestimate the power of a great idea. If you build a solid business plan around it, that is economically feasible you might have something really powerful in your hands. Creative ideas and concepts are often ahead of the crowd so have patience. These plans often take more time to incubate in the minds of the people, and therefore take longer to show their real potential.

JV: What a cruel question… probably it’s ‘don’t worry, mate. You will be OK’. Or perhaps something like: ‘make sure you enjoy all the crazy situations these projects bring you into’.

CVDB : Try to be your best self to everyone you meet. Your personal network is super important to start. Of course you can’t be friends with everyone, but someone in your network can eventually grow out to be valuable in your career, start making connections at a young age and you will benefit from it for the rest of your professional life!

What is essential to being a creative in Amsterdam? How does your city inspire your work?

JV: Amsterdam is a pocket-sized metropolis. This means that you can get everywhere by bike and nobody – even true global celebs – are more than 2 phone calls away. I meet so many interesting people here from all kinds of walks of life. Your essentials are a bike (and a tolerance for rainy days) and your phone. Along with a good reputation I guess. My city inspires me because it is full of beauty and interesting people; also there’s a great tradition of citizens taking charge, doing iconic stuff, as opposed to government or the church. Like the Vondelpark, the Concertgebouw were both founded and paid for by citizens – and most of the great art was commissioned by normal people too. I spend 1 day a week at my denim project which is based in The Hallen, a former tramworks. This place has been redeveloped with so much love and care, it’s just a joy to be here.

MM: The good thing about Amsterdam is that it’s pretty small and also rich. That maybe sounds strange, but in Amsterdam if you have a creative good idea and you invest 2 years in your network you can make a business out of it. For example in Berlin it’s really hard to make money as a creative professional. A lot of my friends came back to Amsterdam after working and of course raving in Berlin for a year or so. Because Amsterdam is so compact it’s easy to build a network and see where opportunities lie. We always say ‘by having a dialogue we’re changing the rules’. This happened with the introduction of 24h license in Amsterdam for clubs and bars. Now 10 venues have this license and we can compete with cities like Berlin and London when in comes to Nightlife.

ND: Probably the most important thing is to be able to adapt to a changing environment really quickly, see opportunities. A city like Amsterdam is constantly moving and developing (lots of temporary projects get a chance, and develop potential over the long run). You have to see chances and possible collaborations and be able to turn this into something real as soon as possible. Often ideas arise simultaneously so you have to try and stay on top of everything in order to maintain a pioneering position and inspire others with innovative concepts. Amsterdam has a big creative scene. We are ahead of many countries in festivals, we have a big electronic music scene, and many creative education programs. And due to the limited space, we are dependent on innovative ideas and being creative within the space we have. A lot of empty buildings are developed by creatives in the short run in order to attract more people to these specific areas and create value for future development. In general I think Amsterdam still is and has always been a very open-minded city and this also helps creativity.

CVDB: Being in a city like Amsterdam you find inspiration everywhere. On the streets, on the canals, in the dance parties, everywhere. You have also a lot of small businesses and everyone is very easy to get in touch with. That’s the great thing about Holland actually, everyone is nearby and easy to get in touch with.

“Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.” – Coco Chanel. How do you deal with failure?

JV: I tend to see failure in terms of a boxing or rugby match. The blows you take may hurt, but they never stop you from going forward. Amsterdam is one of the safest and nicest places to live; so whatever goes wrong you can get back in the saddle if you want to. Lately I’ve come to realise two interesting things: (a) it truly IS about the journey, not the destination and (b) some things are just great for a specific era or amount of time, and ending them doesn’t mean failure but evolution.

MM: By being realistic but also by following your dreams. Being realistic helps me to get things in place. Without failure you won’t learn anything. Failure helps you to get better in the things you like to do and it can provide perspective. Following your dreams and staying true to yourself will eventually bring out the best in your work and life.

ND: What is failure? Sometimes things turn out differently than you might have expected. But it doesn’t mean that you have failed. I believe that things happen for a reason and that one learns from disappointment or/and unexpected course of events. You might say, I will never do this again. But it took this scenic route to make you realize this. Often the best things/ideas/concept eventually happens because you were forced to do things in a different way. It makes life more interesting. Success can only be celebrated if you know failure.

CVDB: Life is all about falling and getting back up that one extra time. When something goes wrong try to fix it the best you can, after that move on and make sure you learn from your mistakes. Keep your head up at all times!

If you weren’t doing what you are right now, and can switch to anything, what would it be?

JV: So in a next life/career/phase I think I’d like to teach, I’d like to spend more time in California and/or Hawaii. I’ve always been fascinated by surfing so I think I’d like to teach my kids to surf and be at the sea more. Also I like drawing and writing so maybe a children’s book.

MM: Haha great question! I always say in another life I would be an astronaut. I love watching documentaries about the universe. The immense scale of it all the beautiful colors. And if it was a creative job, I would like to work for landscape artist Olafur Eliasson. He did the waterfalls under the bridges in New York and also he created a sun in the Tate Modern in London. His studio does so many great projects. I’m not an artist myself, but I could definitely help in kick starting projects.

ND: I have always been involved in service related business, but one of my future ambitions still is to be able to create a product. I love fashion, and always had a pretty particular taste, so I would really like to start my own fashion label some time.

CVDB: Probably doing what I’m doing right now, but in Paris where all the biggest fashion houses come together.

Finish the sentence “The most important thing a creative can have is ________”

JV: people to work and share with.

ND: Enough space in the mind to have real freedom of thought.

CVDB: Imagination.

MM: The most important thing a creative can have is set boundaries. Working on a project with clear edges makes it much easier to be creative.


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