A two-time CFDA Award winner, Dutch-born Ronaldus Shamask has had his namesake company since 1998, after dissolving an earlier fashion house founded in 1979. Shamask made his name in the 90s on geometric pieces in innovative fabrics, such as paper-thin leather dresses, unstructured jackets, and tops with a never ending “infinity zipper.” In 2011, after a ten-year absence, he returned to showing at the tents. He will be the subject of an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2012.
You’ve been designing for decades. Do you have an opinion about the newer generation of designers and how quickly they become stars?
Fashion is so different than art: in the art world, you’re not considered a great artist or taken seriously until your late 40’s and I think fashion is just the opposite. I think it’s exciting to be a young designer nowadays.
You started out as an artist in London. What made you want to become a fashion designer?
I started doing illustrations for the Observer and the Times in London. In 1972 I moved to Buffalo and I thought about what could make me famous over night. I thought maybe fashion could be the art form of the 80s.
Was there anyone who inspired you to move into fashion?
I was doing a project with Betsy Johnson and we were collaborating…I asked her what she does and she said “It’s so simple! It’s like baking a cake: you buy your ingredients and do it.” She never told me how difficult it was, that you have to make sure it rises, it’s the right temperature.
How do you see things have changed? How is the process different for you?
The media has changed. In the past, I was really focused on my clientele and the evolution of the collection, and the fashion shows used to be a distraction. But now the media has become so important and now the fashion shows are huge.
The fall collection is very rich – how did you transition for the spring?
I had three conceptual groups for the Spring collection. The collection started out with raw silk dipped in gold all very luxurious – from there it became simple structured fabrications with the concept of a Zen spa. The last group became a bit Mondrian meets superwoman. I discovered a sense of humor I didn’t realize I had.
In what way are you hoping to grow the brand?
Typically my customer has been an older sophisticated worldly woman but now younger women have discovered me. The timing is right—it’s a very retro moment and there are so many influences from the 80s and 90s. The press has been amazing in welcoming me back. I’ve been very lucky and been having a lot of fun.
You’re known for your collaborations with artists like Mikhail Baryshnikov and sculptor Michele Oka Doner, If you had to choose an artist to collaborate with in the future, who would it be?
Jennifer Bartlett the painter. Also, the photographer Mitch Epstein, who did a beautiful photograph of pollution. I thought about doing a print on it.
How would you grow the collection?
I would love to do menswear again, as for me it is easier then women’s — I think maybe because I wear the clothes there’s an emotional connection to it.