Hannelore Knuts. The model stylist
Hannelore Knuts is a woman who wears many creative hats – international model, exhibition curator, editor-at-large, and now fashion stylist. She may call the beginning of her career “an accident”, but it seems she was destined for the fashion world. Her passion and creative expression catapulted her from a photography student at the acclaimed RCA in Antwerp to runway model for Veronique Branquinho in Paris, a feature role in a documentary, and then to Steven Meisel's lens in Milan - all within a few months! After establishing a successful career as an international model, Hannelore is now also recognized as an in-demand fashion stylist working on runway shows (Wunderkind Milano), fashion films (Hermes) and print campaigns (10 Magazine, Hermes).
I love the multiple layers and emotions in a ‘story’ in color. There are a lot more elements to play with or be cautious about. It’s such a thin line and I like that challenge.
LM: You have been an established model for many years. How has this path led you to fashion styling?
HK: I didn't necessarily see it, but people in the business said there was something about me. I remember a lot of people asking my advice [about fashion] or I was allowed to give my opinion on set. The way I did my job as a model was to go into character. Even if it was a natural me, I always wanted to have a bit of a story. It kept it interesting for me. I did an Alaïa shoot with Inez and Vinoodh, and Joe McKenna introduced me to Azzedine Alaïa, himself. Joe put in a good word for me, and a few months later I received a voicemail from Mr Alaïa saying he really enjoyed meeting me and loved my sense of style, and asked if I wanted to work for him. It took me a week to find the courage to call him back. I told him that I would love to, but he had to give me some time to look through his archives. I wanted to get to know him… and he said, “No, I want you”. This is one of the biggest compliments I have ever had! I spent 2-3 days a week with him. [He would ask constantly], “would you wear that?” Around that time, I met the designer Haider Ackermann. He knew me as “the Antwerp girl” as he had studied in Antwerp, as well. We became friends and would talk about what he was doing. Before I knew it, I was with him from his first drawing to the last girl off the runway. It grew organically as a friendship, and then a job.
When I became pregnant, Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou from 10 Magazine reached out. I love her. She’s real and has a great sense of humor. She wrote me an email saying ”if you ever want to quit modeling or if you have time on your hands, know there is a space for you here at 10 Magazine”. I realized that’s an opportunity I needed to grab… She truly believed in my talent and wanted to support me… [She] gave me the title of editor-at-large and pages to fill up my portfolio. A dream situation as a beginner [stylist]! I did some shoots, and one shoot led to another. So, my first official print styling work was with 10 Magazine.
LM: You have worked on so many shoots during your career as a model. Tell us about your creative process when working as a stylist?
HK: I only do a little bit of research, but the ideas are then brewing in my head. When I get on set, I’ll just do it. And I know with most of the things I do, if I can’t do it in 5 minutes, it’s not worth it. My boyfriend is a video artist and he can spend months on a project…. I have the [base] concept, and then I can work quickly, intuitively, and organically. As a kid I would spend hours in front of my mirror playing and dancing… I didn’t know [about fashion], but playing with clothes was always important to me. I was very shy and it was a way to communicate ‘who’ I am. This was always done with a certain spontaneity. [When I work], I need to be in it with my heart, so that I can trust my gut feeling and maintain that kind of spontaneity.
LM: You are now working with photographers in a different role. How has this transition been?
HK: It has been easy so far because, with most of the photographer, we already knew each other and had worked together in some way. My second shoot was with Horst Diekgerdes. He was amazing. We immediately got each other. He was not worried about my chaotic way of working. He got really inspired. We shot two days together. He saw ME. I was the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show. I had shot with Horst as a model, so I knew him and there is an amazing creative chemistry. It was so refreshing to just have fun. The studio was a set designer‘s studio so all of a sudden he was like a toddler in a toyshop. Horst [pointed out] my ability to communicate with the model, to give that direction and energy, is definitely an added value. It’s something extra I can bring as a stylist.
LM: You curated an art exhibition in the past. How does art influence your work?
HK: All [of] my friends are artists or musicians, so that is my background. I like artists like Stephen Shore, Urs Fisher, Willem De Kooning, Léon Spilliaert, and Michaël Borremans, the last two are both Belgian painters. I also admire the sculptor John Chamberlain and, then, there is my friend Christiane Joy. She's a costume designer but she also does art pieces. Most of the names here are very colorful and, for me, there's a lot of energy. I still see myself as a 16-year-old, [dressed] all in black. I lean more to the melancholy. But, it’s actually one of my good friends who made me look at colors in a different way. Colors can be [melancholic], as well. Because my default setting is melancholy, colors seemed more of a challenge and, therefore, more inspiring. Dark was the mood I knew and it always seemed to be easy [for me]. I love the multiple layers and emotions in a ‘story’ in color. There are a lot more elements to play with or be cautious about. It’s such a thin line and I like that challenge.
I curated an exhibition at the fashion museum in my hometown. I was asked to do a retrospective of myself. I thought, “I’m not dead, I’m not going to do a retrospective about myself. I’m not going to celebrate myself, that’s a bit weird!”. So, I opened [the exhibition] up to include things that have influenced me. It shows “who I have become” through my journey as a model, traveling the world, and seeing museums that some people don’t get to see. These experiences meant that art and music, which had always been a part of my life, could also be part of my fashion life too.
LM: Hermes is an iconic brand you have collaborated with. Tell us more about the projects you have been working on.
HK: My first experience with Hermes was as a model with Martin Margiela. The brand did not cast me at the time - I was too “edgy” - but Margiela thanked me for coming to the casting and told me he “adored” me. Some years later, Gaultier moved over to the brand [and created some “edge”]. I had been working with him already, and when he moved to Hermes he took the ‘family’ with him. But, I still didn’t really have a personal relationship with anybody in the house [Hermes]. Recently, one of my dearest friends from New York, Nadege, told me she’s moving back to Paris for an amazing job. Creative Director at Hermes! She loves me and believes in me. She knows my struggles and my passions, she knows ME. She just talked about me at Hermes and talked about my ideas. She also loves [my boyfriend] Nicolas’ work. He’s a video artist. She asked Nicolas to do a video and for me to style it. This was her vision for the brand as the new Head of Design. It’s a really beautiful video and an introduction to the new era at Hermes.
The next project I did for Hermes was completely my idea. I thought, “if I’m going to do styling I [need to be different] from other stylists out there. What is my strong point?” I remembered the exhibition I curated. I have a lot of friends who are amazing artists. And it’s all about crossover now, so I thought I can bring these together. Michaël Borremans, who had painted me in the past, always takes pictures of his subject in varied light settings before painting. So I asked him if he was interested in a creative fashion shoot. Not advertising, nothing too commercial. He said that “secretly, it was a dream of his”. So, when Nadege said I could create a story for Le Monde D'Hermes magazine, I asked Michaël to shoot the editorial. This is how we were able to collaborate with each other and with Hermes.
LM: You are able to create a character when you model and inspire characters in those you style. So lastly, tell us how you would describe your own style.
HK: It’s more toned down and selective now. Like, there has always been a punk element, or rock n roll attitude, to me. But, for instance, I will tuck my shirt into my pants. I have always liked to mix in a little bit of sophistication, or my version of it.
LM: A sophisticated punk, perhaps?
Interview by Linda Mateljan