PILLOW Mag loves to be ahead of the trends and we’re also big fans of exploring places that are off the beaten track.
So when when the Dutch Tourist board invited me – Pillow Mag’s Editor Angharad Llewellyn – to go and see the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition From Sidewalk To Catwalk at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, a full YEAR ahead of it’s London jaunt at the Barbican, I jumped at the chance.
It was also a chance to explore the galleries, restaurants and bars that Rotterdam has to offer.
So armed with a videocamera, and Pillow Mag team member Donna Creek, we set off for a long weekend in Rotterdam.
When we arrived in the city, the first thing I realised was that it was freezing. And I mean really freezing. The cab driver who collected us from the super smart airport told us snow was forecast and the temperature was set to drop to minus ten.
I looked down at myself. Although the vintage Balmain jacket I was wearing looked great.. I’m wasn’t sure how it was going to protect me from the snow.
So the first stop I made in Rotterdam wasn’t to anywhere cultural – it was to a Mango to buy a winter coat!
I snapped up a black number with shiny gold buttons to protect me against the chill (AND it was a bit cheaper than London, bargain fans).
All ideas of cycling around the city or hiring a tandem that Donna and I had discussed were swiftly crossed off our list and replaced by getting taxis or the trams absolutely everywhere.
First up on our itinerary was the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Kunsthal Museum, From Sidewalk to Catwalk.
The exhibition itself was fantastic. Greeted by a neon light at the entrance that spelled out the designer’s name, just inside the entrance was a brace of his outfits.
The designs were displayed on mannequins which had faces projected onto them. Sometimes scary, always interesting, these faces were a great addition to the exhibition. There was even one of Gautier himself doing an introduction in French and English.
Team Pillow loved this touch so much we kept repeating “Hallooo, my name is Jean Paul Gaultier and I’m at the Kunsthal Museum” over and over throughout our trip. Maybe to distract ourselves against the freezing temperatures.
JPG (as we’ll affectionate call him) is best known for the risqué bustier he made for the first lady of pop, Madonna, for her 90s Blonde Ambition tour as well as his signature sailor stripes.
Then there was his presenting gig on Eurotrash… but the less we talk about that the better.
The evolution of the blue and white stripes on pieces throughout the exhibition was a master stroke. From a simple knitted jumper to a floor-length dress with feathers woven into the fabric, From Catwalk to Sidewalk really showed how accomplished and clever JPG is.
His designs are sexy, humorous and clever.
Wide legged pinstripe pants, slung low on the hips – every item was covetable, a work of art.
A second room displayed his more risqué work, a play on tailoring fabrics such a full-length, high necked trench coat with a panel in the front cut out, a woman riding on the back of a man, it was in your face but never brash.
Other stand out pieces included a dramatic dress, with brightly coloured feathered sleeves.
Our hotel, The Manhattan, was absolutely amazing. It’s a 5 star in the centre of the city. And even more excitingly it’s exactly where Jean Paul Gaultier stayed when he was curating his show.
Apparently he flew in the face of fashion and wore Black Ugg boots the whole time he was there – who says you need designer shoes?!? (We do, obvs).
In the foyer there was a giant Diet Coke bottle with his signature blue and white stripes on it. And all over the city items are wrapped in the same fabric, including the giant Euromast – the city’s observation tower.
As well as earning our fashion stripes at the Kunsthal Museum, we racked up some culture points by enjoying an evening at Museumnacht. It’s an annual knees-up where Rotterdam shows off its vibrant up-and-coming arts scene.
It’s conveniently located in and around what became our favourite street in the city – Witte de Withstraat – where we also had dinner one evening at a quirky gourmet hamburger joint called… Hamburg!
During Museumnacht the streets were filled with art lovers.
As well as the main galleries that opened their doors (although you need to buy a flashing badge) all the small local galleries also throw cool, off-beat parties.
Even as we walked past a bakery, a dude in platform heels dancing enthusiastically in the window beckoned us inside. The tables had all been moved and we dance about wildly for a short while before moving on down the street.
The bars and clubs were heaving and despite the sub-zero temperatures everyone is happy and smiling.
During out trip we made friends with Dutch designer Daisy Kroon – a super talented fashionista with her own self-titled label that is sold through boutiques in the Netherlands.
We meet her for lunch at Bazar on Witte de Withstraat – it’s basically the Brick Lane of Rotterdam but cleaner and without the influx of orange tourists visiting from Essex.
Daisy talked us through the Dutch fashion scene and explained some of the inspirations for her gorgeous collections.
On our last night we headed over to Blender, a cool cocktail bar. As I leafed through their menu – which is also a magazine – I realised that there were so many delish cocktails on offer, I was going to find it hard to choose just one.
However, after having some hair-raising Dutch gin at a bar called Zondebok & t’ ZwarteSchaap in Witte de Withstraat the day before, I plumped for a vodka concoction.
There are so many brilliant things about Rotterdam, and in spite of it snowing, temperatures dropping below zero and me failing to bring any winter gear, its vibrant arts scene and fantastic culture shined through the frosty weather. Plus staying in a plush hotel where one of your favourite fashion designers is holding an exhibition is never going to be a bad time, is it?
It’s an industrial city though, and you have to look past its gruff exterior to see the beauty underneath.
Rotterdam worked its charm upon me though, and with the promise of a bit of sunshine, I’d definitely return.
FLY: Cityjet flights are available, starting at £150 return.
STAY: The Manhattan Hotel, manhattanhotelrotterdam.com, from €100 per room per night.