In the Jubilee Year: Designs inspired by the Dominican Habit

In the Jubilee Year: Designs inspired by the Dominican Habit

For the Jubilee of the 800th anniversary of the Order, the brothers and sisters in the Netherlands organized a number of encounters with ‘benevolent strangers’: students, beer drinkers, writers, radio listeners and artists. We asked the young Amsterdam-based fashion designer Borre Akkersdijk (ByBorre): “suppose Saint Dominic would send his brothers and sisters into the world today, with the same message he did 800 years ago, what would they look like?” The project is NOT about throwing away the traditional Dominican habit, rather it is about how we are seen through the eye of a ‘benevolent stranger’, how we are seen in the eye of a contemporary designer.



Borre Akkersdijk: “When I was contacted about the project, No was my first thought. Religion is not something ByBorre wants to be dealing with. But the more research we did on the Dominicans and the habit, the more excited we got about it.

After all the press coverage about it over the past few years, I particularly associate the churchgoing world with the abuse of power and trust. Right or wrong, through our conversations with the Dominicans, we discovered that it is also about something completely different; about having contact with another, about having respect for your fellows but also for the materials around you.

Stand out or not?

During our research on this project, we came across a lot of themes that we also work on with ByBorre. Themes that felt very logical, that were also a part of our own collection or themes that we can use for our new collections. For example, think about the way that the Order used the materials that were at hand then, which determined the color of their clothes. But also the layers of the habit, which translates beautifully to combining a limited number of supplies in your wardrobe that you can use for a lot of things.

When the Dominicans walked in the streets, they wanted to be normal, not drawing attention to themselves. And – ironically  – this is exactly how they get noticed nowadays. Someone who wears a habit like that is a curiosity. We wanted to go back to the essence of the piece of clothing: showing that you are one with the people around you. That is why it is almost a ‘normal’ collection.

We tried to figure out the story of the Dominicans, but also about the habit they are wearing. Of what material is it made? Has it always been that way? How is it made? Are there differences in how people use it? Is it different in various parts of the world?

A collection of clothing pieces

 One of the things we found out is that nowadays the Dominicans wear the habit on top of their ‘regular’ clothing. That’s in contrast with back in the days, when they would only wear the habit itself. Apparently something is missing for the people who want to wear the habit now. That explains why we chose to put this together: it’s a habit and at the same time it is a regular clothing staple.

We also wanted to make it more flexible. Earlier on, there was a strict way of how to wear the habit. Now you can alternate these items and combine them however you like. The New Habit became a collection of several clothing pieces, which makes it more interesting: the items fit young and old, men and women. It gives you a lot of options, but it is always a unity and matches perfectly.

International idiom

Our inspiration for the patterns comes from the form language that is used by the Dominicans and in other parts of the world. The Dominicans are an international Order, which means that the collection needs to work everywhere in the world. This shows in the form language of the different pieces. For example, the tunic can remind you of the djellaba. We did not design this for one culture specifically, so every culture will recognize it and combine it to something personal. You can make dozens of combinations with the designed patterns.

In response to our conversations with the Dominicans, our designs have been made functional and user-friendly. We included a lot of pockets and the designs are cut in a way that you can easily reach your pockets. We also added a hood that covers against the rain, but also serves as a manner to take a few steps back and be alone or pray.

Functionality is more important than esthetics

The colors black and white have gained meaning for the Dominicans through the centuries, but the essence has always been that functionality is more important than esthetics. If you let go of the esthetics and focus on functionality, you are more guided by what kind of fabrics are at hand and what their colors are. In this case, we had a lot of unpainted textiles or textiles in the colors of our raw material. For our designs, we did use black and white, but to a lesser extent than the current habit.

It has become everything but a fashion collection. Our designs are the essence of a wardrobe; basically you would not need anything else. The pieces are basic and functional, they are made with what is at hand. But if you combine them, they create your own unique Dominican form.

The idea is that these pieces, on the basis of patterns that are openly available, can be produced locally with the fabrics that are at hand. Because of that, they will always fit the circumstances and the climate in which they are worn. For the Netherlands, we chose technical fabrics – water resistant and dirt reluctant – but in Africa you could use different materials and finishes. Using the same patterns for all the designs, you can make the pieces everywhere in the world adjusted to the local circumstances.

Sobriety and togetherness

I would like to see people who are not Dominican but who feel connected to their story wear this collection. In this way, they can carry out the vision of the Dominicans together with them. Using less, living sober, being together and communicating all of this through what you wear. Personally, I would never join the monastery, but I do think their values are important. Also, there are pieces in the collection I would like to have myself.

We hope the project raises a lot of questions, especially within the Dominican Order. We hope that they see how their clothing and the matching story can be a part of their message, even though they neglected it a little since the original design of 800 years ago. We hope it inspires them in that way. And we also hope that the public reaction will be like “wow, I would really want to get a piece of that collection”.

How great would it be if the Dominicans eventually start their own label, with this collection as a foundation?


(20 January 2017)