NO ONE like me
As liberal and open-minded as Marlies Dekkers is now, during her childhood she was equally conservative. “Every night, I would be on my knees, praying my Hail Marys.” Still, that period is precious to her; it has shaped her into the power woman she is now. This year, Marlies celebrates being in business for 25 years, the perfect opportunity to look back at her milestones.
Step 1. Marlies Dekkers is born on November 29, 1965 in Oosterhout, a town in North Brabant… “I grew up in a strict, Catholic working-class environment that was governed by rules and ideas on how to behave. My grandmother lived with us. So, in a way, I was raised by an even earlier generation, like I was living a hundred years ago,” Marlies tells us. She goes to a strict, Catholic school, reads the Bible every day while liberal tv stations like VPRO and VARA are banned from the household for being much too immoral. “Every night, I would
be on my knees, praying my Hail Marys. Seen through this generation’s eyes, this must seem very old-fashioned, but is was authentic and sincere, and it has given me very strong roots. I treasure my youth, I definitely don’t look back at it with bad feelings”, she says. “It wasn’t light-hearted or easy, but it was a good childhood. Good in the sense of profoundness and true love; we were a warm, close-knit family.” Looking back, Marlies experienced religion as something beautiful, as authoritarian as it may have been. “When I hear people talk about mindfulness, I think: praying already contains that element of going inside. As a child, I had a very rich fantasy life, very much focused on God. The dialogue I used to have with him really helped me later in life. I considered him the most powerful man on earth, and regardless of whether that is actually true or not, it doesn’t matter, because I experienced it as such. After I turned 12 or 13, I thought: I am no longer scared of you, I can talk to you at your own level. That made very strong, mentally. It is that strength that I used later on to start my company; it gave me the courage to not give up as soon as I experienced my first setback. I definitely developed my business qualities during that period.” Her creative side was there, but there was not a lot of room for it in the conservative environment of her upbringing. “Even though in our house, we always had a sewing machine on the table. There wasn’t much money, so my mother made all our clothing herself. As a child, I was always watching how she did it, how she made patterns and was busy handling spools of thread and her measuring tape. Language didn’t play a very big part in our working-class family, I could express myself better in fabrics.” It was assumed that Marlies would visit domestic science school. “I would become a housewife, there was no other option. The fact that I now have an international career in lingerie, think liberally and talk openly about eroticism, was a long road I had to travel, coming from praying on my knees in front of my bed.”
Step 2. Marlies works her way up from domestic science school to a type of accelerated high school and gets accepted into a prestigious art academy called Sint-Joost…”I realized that I wanted to do more with what came out of my hands. So, I studied till I was blue in the face and worked like a dog to be able to start art school as quickly as possible after finishing domestic science school.” The people around her didn’t understand the path Marlies wanted to follow. “We had to pay boarding at home, so the idea was to start working as soon as possible to support my parents financially. That school was only going to cost me money. I then told my parents: ‘I cannot afford to pay for boarding, but I can promise you that I will pay for everything myself.” I worked relentlessly, often not coming home before midnight from all my extra jobs and then I still had to get started on my homework. Yet I always saw it as this great opportunity. I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I could move up in the world simply through giving it my all. Coming from a working-class family, I was never afraid to put in the work.” Soon, Marlies began to get noticed within the community of the Sint-Joost academy. “Because I had such a big drive, I quickly made up for all the lost years of education. After the first and second year I wasn’t afraid to call newspapers like De Volkskrant and Het NRC when we had expositions. They didn’t usually visit an art academy in a small town like Breda, but I would send out press releases and say: “I am right here, and I think you should see me.” In hindsight, I think it’s quite funny that I used to do all those things. But I simply knew: I have to become visible, I have to get noticed, I am Marlies Dekkers and there is no one like me.” The designer talks about the fact that she always received a lot of support from from her family, even though they didn’t quite understand what she was doing. “Whenever my designs needed to be made, my mother and aunts would help with sewing. When I needed something made out of iron, my father would fix it. Coming from their background, it was very hard for my parents to comprehend what I was doing; their feelings varied somewhere between pride and shame. Nonetheless, they did everything within their power to make my dream come true. The infinite pride came later when they could see: she is actually going to go for it and really achieve something.”
Step 3. Marlies graduates with honors in 1991… While everybody else graduates with around 6 outfits, Marlies creates a complete collection consisting of 28 pieces. “I had bluffed towards the press, so I had to put my money where my mouth was. I had created an entire show around my designs, through which I told the story of Adam and Eve. Already then, there were a lot of elements of my current work in there, my designs were very ‘body conscious’, so in hindsight, the link with lingerie was already there.” One of the highlights of her graduation collection was the Bare Butt Dress that gives Marlies instant national fame. Thanks to the grant that she received from the government, she was able to take the first steps towards her own lingerie line Undressed. “25 years ago, I started my own company, but before you have your own, real collection, you first have take a thousand small steps and fail a great number of times. I never had this romantic notion like: I’m going to start my own little shop! Instead, I dreamed of starting a revolution, of changing the way women see lingerie. Up till that moment, lingerie was seen as something that turned women into objects of desire. Now, 25 years later, lingerie is something we women buy for ourselves; something that gives us self-confidence. I am very proud to have contributed to such a great, feminist turnaround.
Step 4. In April 1998, Marlies becomes mother of her daughter Zilver… “As a young girl, I never had the specific desire to have children, but there came a moment in my life that I found myself wanting to become a mother. My company was going through a growth spurt however, it was quite a crucial period, and that’s when I became pregnant. I saw so many women around me change as soon as they had a baby -their world would shrink to the size of their child’s world- and I had no idea how I would come out of it. But when I opened my eyes again after giving birth, I thought: I want to read the paper again, find out what is going on in the world.” Marlies turned out to be exactly the same person she was before the birth of her daughter. “After only one week, I was back at work. My ambitions hadn’t changed, I had only received this huge gift on top of everything. My company was still quite small, and I was very flexible, so I could take Zilver everywhere with me. After three months, she went to daycare. That was not very difficult for me, because I could see that she really enjoyed herself there. Only now have I started thinking: perhaps I should have been there a little more. Often, I ask my daughter: “Did you feel like I wasn’t there enough for you?”. But she didn’t experience it like that at all. I really feel like I had a very easy child. She has always ‘managed’ me well: when she felt like I was
gone too much or was failing at something, she would point it out to me, and then I would do something about it.”
Step 5. Marlies has her international breakthrough and stars like Madonna, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears wear her designs… “My philosphy was ‘dare to dream, dare to grow, dear to be’ and those big popstars where the living examples of that motto. I wanted them to become my ambassadors and thought: how can I reach them? I decided to simply post myself at the side door of the artist entrance when one of these women performed at Ahoy, the biggest event location in Rotterdam. The moment they walked out, I would present them a gift box with lingerie, hoping that they would even look at it. Eventually, the people who worked for concert promoter Mojo started to recognize me and let me put lingerie sets in the dressing rooms. I would add a note saying: ‘If you want to try these in the right size for you, you can come to my store’. And that’s how that developed.” Marlies does not remember exactly which big celebrity wore her designs first. “Out of nowhere, you will see a video and think: whaaa, she is wearing it! That feeling is indescribable.
By now, over 250 international stars have worn pieces from my collections. Which is really exceptional, especially considering the fact that I never paid them for it; they really only wear it because they think it’s beautiful.”
Step 6. Marlies has to rebuild her company from scratch after going bankrupt in August, 2013… “It was a very difficult period, its devastating effect can not be underestimated, and I never want to make it seem less horrible than it really is”, she says in all honesty. “People had started buying online more and more and I reacted to that too slowly; the world was changing so rapidly during that period. It was incredibly heavy, but I was lucky enough to be able to restart, to find great new investors and to get the chance to build an amazing team again. You have to invest a lot of energy and zest for life in that process and have great stamina. Fortunately, I don’t easily experience things as being a struggle because I don’t start out things with a romantic idea in my head. I have always known that you have to work incredibly hard and live through many setbacks to achieve success and keep it. The fact that half of our sales are now online, and we are successful again makes me very proud, five years ago I could only have dreamed that.” Recently, Marlies published ‘Unlock Your Potential’, a book that helps women realize their own dreams and become the women they desire to be, through challenging questions and tasks.
Step 7. On November 29th, 2015, Marlies celebrates her fiftieth birthday… “For me, turning fifty was actually kind of fun; I had never expected to feel this great at this age. Instead of thinking that I’m old, I feel more like a teenager. I wake up every morning with so much energy, happiness and lust for life. What definitely helps is that I have always had the habit of investing in my health by eating well, doing a lot of sports, avoiding smoking, drinking or doing drugs. I had to deny myself a lot of things, but as a result, I arrived at age 50 feeling fabulous.” Marlies says she feels blessed when it comes to love. “I feel tremendously rich because all my life, I have received a lot of love from my parents, my child, my partners and friends. I very much hope that I have managed to give some to others too.” The wealth of experiences she has managed to gather throughout the years, makes her a well-rounded person. “I really like what I see when I look at myself now, my life experience shows in my face. I have been through so much, tried out so many things, have experienced countless conflicts and REALLY got to know myself, those things bring true beauty. Looking back at that girl I once was in domestic science school, I never could have dreamed that I would ever make it this far.”
Sun, sand, scissor kicks
I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing…
Well, unfortunately not my gorgeous personal trainer. But his sexy summer work out is a nice alternative. If you like torture, that is.
“Unlock Your Potential” book launch in New York
Marlies Dekkers, the cult Dutch lingerie artist, launched her new book ‘Unlock your potential’ on February 27th in the Dream Hotel Downtown, New York City… And what a night it was!
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