Designers

Fashion Biography

Koos Van Den Akker, Fashion Designer

INF1291

Koos van den Akker was born on March 16. 1939 in The Hague, Netherlands the youngest of three children. His parents were simple. God fearing folk who expected their son to learn a craft in the lean years of post war Holland, eleven year old Koos showed his creative spirit by making clothes. His first project was a dress he made for his sister from a white bed sheet, which he embroidered with fake pearls unstrung from his mother"s necklace. He taught himself to use the sample sewing machine at home and moved onto using dopes as fabric. His parents were surprised but supportive. A wealthy uncle, who owned a beautiful house in the Dutch countryside, provided Koos with glimpses of sophistication. The uncle"s grand piano introduced Koos with music and the large garden inspired him to paint flowers recognizing immediately Koos" talent, his uncle arranged for the boy to go to the Royal Art School to learn to paint. The admissions committee, impressed by Koos" portfolio, allowed him to enroll at the age of 15, bypassing the usual requirements of age (18 years) and a high school diploma. At first Koos studied fine arts, then switched to the Fashion department. During school holidays, Koos worked in a department store creating window displays, while making clothes for friends at night.

At age 18, Koos left school when the army called him to fulfill his two years military obligation. When called Koos was in the middle of sewing dresses for a wedding party so he packed them in his suitcase and took his portable sewing machine to the military base. This was something quite unusual, but was soon accepted by the other soldiers. A high ranking officer heard about Koos" work and arranged for him to set up a workshop in a basement, where Koos made clothes for the officer"s wife and daughters. After two years in the army, Koos went to Paris and started doing window displays for the famous galleries Lafayette. In 1961 he enrolled in L"Ecole Guerre Lavinge, which was located in the same building as Christian Dior workrooms. Every year Dior offered the most gifted students an apprenticeship and in 1963, Koos was selected. It was here that he came to understand the fine points and technicalities of sewing. This job was totally without glamour. The focus was on handwork and fit. After three years at Dior, and learning every detail about crating beautiful clothes, Koos returned to Holland to start his own business. In 1965, Koos opened his first salon in The Hague where he slept in a small room in the back.

His extravagant window displays drew crowds of delighted design students as well as shoppers. After the death of his father in 1968, Koos decided to leave Holland. He wanted to go to the United States, but was told by the immigration service that America needed doctors, nurses and missionaries, not designers. So with as little delay as possible, Koos departed on missionary"s visa! The five day Atlantic crossing gave Koos the reflective time he needed. He was fully aware that his life was about to change. New York always held a particular fascination for Koos, ever since he first saw Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany"s. His first stop was the top of the empire State Building. Exhilarated and independent, Koos looked over the city and knew he was home. He would not return to Holland for 13 years. In New York, Koos set up his portable sewing machine on his hotel room bed. As he discovered New York, the fountain at Lincoln Center became a favorite meeting place: he made friends and those friends" sisters became his first customers. His Lincoln Center customers followed him to his first apartment on the Upper West Side before he opened a little store on Columbus Avenue. It was one of the first stores on Columbus Avenue. The major turning point in Koos" career came when he opened a store on Madison Avenue and 68th Street.

This is where his career really started and business flourished there for fifteen years. In the mid 70"s, he started a wholesale line with a showroom at 550 7th Avenue, where most of the major designers had showrooms. There, and with three floors of workrooms employing 90 people, he supplied the buyers at all the major upscale stores including Bonwit Teller, Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshal Fields, Bloomingdale"s and Frost Brothers. Koos went west in 1978 and opened a boutique on Camden Drive in Beverly Hills and established visibility, which would serve him well in the future. Entertainers like Julie and Harry Belafonte, Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, Diahann Carol, Bill Cosby and Barbara Walters all wanted him. Koos won the Gold Coast Award in 1978. In 1983, the American Printed Fabrics Council gave Koos a Tommy award. This was also the year Koos became a United States citizen, one of his proudest moments. Fashion model Carol Aly hosted a party for him at Studio 54. More than anyone else, Bill Cosby has been a fan and friend to Koos, inspiring and supporting him through the good and the lean years. It all began early in the 1980"s when Josephine Premice, a beautiful singer, has Koos make a sweater as her present to Bill. She brought the sweater to the set of The Cosby Show and Bill wore it to the taping. It was a hit.

In a generous way Cosby began giving his friends presents made by Koos. His clothes dressed stars like Stevie Wonder, Chita Rivera, Brooke Shields, Isabella Rosselini and Lauren Hutton. There was much publicity from the fashion press, including Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and L"Officiel. His clothes were features in many ads and mailers for Estee Lauder and Virginia Slims cigarettes. Hi also designed furs for Ben Kahn and sheets for West Point Pepperll, sold at JC Penney. In the early 90"s women"s taste were changing and Koos" Business was failing. Minimalism was in. Black was in, Collage was out. One top of everything Koos; business partner was dying, His Madison Avenue lease was cancelled and operations had to be shut down. While the business side of Koos was suffering, his creative vision never faltered. He continued to make garments for his loyal customers. Then in 1995, a long time client approached Koos with the idea if a new partnership Koos & Co. was born. The partners rented a small store on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. The shop was a success and in 1999, they moved back uptown to 1283 Madison Avenue, where the one and only Koos boutique was until September 2005. Koos opened the new store on 1263 Madison Avenue between 90th and 91st.

Koos" design philosophy in his own words: I think of myself as very basic. I am a craftsperson and I sew like that. I sew beautiful clothes. I am nothing more than a worker sitting behind a sewing machine. That"s where I feel most comfortable, that"s where I am the best. That"s what I do the best and it is very basic.

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