Model : Valentijn de Hingh
Concept Maker & Producer : Jochem Kaan & Arnout van Krimpen
Dress Designer : Mattijs van Bergen
Spatial Designer : Bentinck Straat from Oeri van Woezik
Photographer: Pieter Henket
Videographer : Roland Pupupin
Hair & Make-up : Jan Fuite from House of Orange
Special Thanks to COC Amsterdam
The quartet of nimble-fingered designers unstitched the dress. One loop after another they loosened the threads, separating from the rest of the piece a rectangular blue cotton fabric. It had red borders on the top and bottom. Emblazoned in the center is a crest: a ring of leaves encircling two men, one light and one dark-skinned. They each propped a tool on their shoulders: an axe and a paddle. Jostled under their feet are the words SUB UMBRA FLOREO. It’s Latin for, “Under the shade I flourish.”
It’s the flag of Belize. And they’ve just removed it from the dress made from an ensemble of 72 flags. The four designers created the dress as a statement against discrimination of the LGBTQI community. The bodice (the top of the dress) is the Amsterdam city flag. The bottom of the dress comprises flags from 72 countries that outlaw homosexuality or homosexual acts. At its full width, the dress measures 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter.
On 10 August 2016, the Supreme Court of Belize, in a radical departure from a dated draconian law, decriminalized homosexuality. The dress had no place for Belize anymore. So, they replaced it with a rainbow flag.
“It’s such good news that we have to replace the Belize flag,” said one of the designers, 36-year-old Mattijs van Bergen.
According to the quartet, the dress represents Amsterdam’s centuries-old role as the shelter city for LGBT refugees persecuted in their own countries. The, now, 71 flags seek sanctuary under the shade of the Amsterdam city flag. SUB UMBRA FLOREO.
The dress, which made its first public appearance on 5 August, 2016, at Amsterdam’s inaugural LGBT Freedom Ceremony, was modeled by Valentijn de Hingh. The 26-year-old Dutch transgender model was the befitting personification of the dress. Her success as a transgender model bookended the designers’ message. Fashion photographer Pieter Henket immortalized the dress on film at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
“Our project seeks to raise awareness on several levels; on the vast challenges that LGBTQI-refugees have to deal with on a daily basis, on the fact that over a third of the world’s countries still have active anti-LGBT legislation in some form or another,”said 47-year-old art teacher Arnout.
Even though the designers have since replaced the Belize flag on the dress, 71 countries remain etched on the train; bound together by the common thread of discrimination and dyed in persecution.
“We hope that the dress will help to change the law in more countries so that eventually we’ll be able to turn it into a dress made completely out of rainbow flags,” said Mattijs.
Since the introduction of the dress, a huge conversation has erupted on social media. Additionally, it’s garnered attention from international media, from BuzzFeed, to Vogue, to CTV News, to The Guardian. Even countries whose flags are depicted on the dress took notice: Malaysia, and India.
The message is working. It’s growing. Sweeping across nations with the impetus of a raging wildfire.
And it is their hope that the dress would help rescind the laws in the 71 countries; like a game of a more colorful Reversi, flipping each flag in succession.
One down, 71 to go.