Born: The Hague, Netherlands, 16 March 1939; immigrated to the U.S., 1968, naturalized, 1982. Education: Studied at the Netherlands Royal Academy of Art, 1956-58; worked in department stores in The Hague and in Paris; studied fashion at L'école Guerre Lavigne, Paris, 1961. Military Service: Served in the Royal Dutch Army, 1958-60. Career: Apprenticed at Dior, Paris, 1963-65; returned to The Hague and maintained own boutique, 1965-68; lingerie designer, Eve Stillman, New York, 1969-70; freelance designer, from 1971; established first New York boutique, Columbus Avenue, 1971-75; relocated to Madison Avenue, 1975; opened second shop, Beverly Hills, 1978; opened second New York boutique, 1979; added line of handbags, 1986; introduced diffusion line, Hot House, 1983; guest critic, Fashion Institute of Technology, 1999; created fur designs for Alixandre, from 1999; QVC showing immediate success, 2001; also designs bed linens, lingerie, and home furnishings. Awards: Gold Coast award, 1978; American Printed Fabrics Council "Tommy," award, 1983. Address: 34 East 67th Street, New York, NY, U.S.A.
On VAN DEN AKKER:
Khornak, Lucille, Fashion 2001, London, 1982.
Contemporary Designers, Third Edition, Detroit, 1997.
de Llosa, Martha, "Designer Koos van den Akker: Berserk on the Surface," in American Fabrics & Fashions (New York), Spring 1980.
Revson, James A., "The Uncrowned King of Collage," in Newsday, 9 August 1984.
Coffin, David Page, "Koos, the Master of Collage," in Threads (Newtown, CT), December/January 1989-90.
"New York Now," in WWD, 9 April 1990.
Struensee, Chuck, "Koos Comes Back," in WWD, 23 March 1993.
White, Constance C.R., "Fashion Loses a Father Figure," in the New York Times, 19 September 1995.
"Koos Into Fur," in WWD, 4 May 1999.
"Sweaters; Chunky Knits," in the Omaha World-Herald, 9 September 1999.
"Best Furrier in the World," available online at Alixandre, www.alixandrefurs.com , 14 October 2001.
"Koos," online at Europa Couture, europacouture.com , 14 October 2001.
"Koos van den Akker Marks His Return to QVC with the Debut of His Spring/Summer Collection," online at Stop the Presses, www.qvc.com , 14 October 2001.
"Koos van den Akker," online at Texas Fashion Collection, www.web2.unt.edu , 14 October 2001.
"Mary Wore a Little Lamb," online at Humane Society of the United States, www.hsus.org , 14 October 2001.
"Silver Needle Awards & Fashion Show 1999: Designer Critics," online at Marist College, www.marist.edu , 14 October 2001.
" White Noise on View at the Student Art & Design Exhibition," online at Tools for Tomorrow, www.toolsfortomorrow.com , 14 October 2001.
Koos van den Akker is known for his painterly delight in mixing colors, patterns, and textures in unusual, often one of a kind, garments. Since his arrival in the United States in 1968 with just a sewing machine, he has been delighting clients who want something a bit different to wear. His styles have not changed much, simple shapes being more amenable to rich surface manipulations. Having learned the basics of good fit and cut as an apprentice with the house of Christian Dior, van den Akker was able to proceed confidently with the fabric collages that have become his signature. Although his Koos garments recall the art-to-wear movement, they remain free of the sometimes heavy-handed messages inherent in the artifacts which seem more suitable for gallery walls—these masterpieces are meant to be worn and appreciated for their beauty.
Conservatively styled suits consisting of cardigan jackets and gored skirts might be covered with textured mixtures of fur, quilted fabric, leather strips, or pieces of wool. A dress of lace might be dramatized by bold appliqué. As many as six materials might be combined in collages of cotton, wool, furs, tweeds, sequins, and leather. Some of the results are reminiscent of grandmother's crazy quilt, but all are carried out with a true designer's skill and artistic sensitivity. Indeed, van den Akker has admitted that the designs just flow, working themselves out through the process of creation, perhaps reflecting a hereditary affinity with Dutch national costume.
Selling his own custom-made dresses in a boutique gained van den Akker enough experience to open a Madison Avenue shop, one in Beverly Hills, and a men's boutique during the 1970s. In 1983 he presented a moderately priced collection, Hot House. By 1986 he was designing lingerie, daytime and evening clothes, furs, sheets, and home furnishings. Women's clothes were made of beautiful fabrics with colorful print and lace inserts, sometimes following the lines of the garments in harmony and balance, other times contrasting shapes versus line. During the 1980s van den Akker collected a following among celebrities, including Gloria Vanderbilt, who at one point surrounded herself with patchwork, as well as Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, Barbara Walters, Glenn Close, and Bill Cosby, who wore van den Akker's sweaters on The Cosby Show.
Van den Akker has been eager to share the joy he attains from his craft. Designer Christian Francis Roth was his apprentice for several years before venturing out on his own. In late 1989 van den Akker showed the home-sewing public how to make their own creative clothing in a detailed article in Threads Magazine. The next year signaled a broadening of his range to include simpler ready-to-wear sportswear—tweed dresses and coats, coats of blanket materials, matching suede jackets and skirts, and short floral dresses with just a hint of the Koos play with fabrics in a mixed-print collar. The designer continued to refine his artistry, developing a ready-to-wear sportswear collection for DeWilde that is more subtle and interchangeable. Toned-down collage effects and texture appliqués lend interest to classic pieces in wool and cashmere, even sheer georgette.
To adoring fans of his designs, van den Akker sold all of his fall-winter 1998 collection in 27 minutes. Finding homes in closets were a big shirt, reversible silk jacket, bias patchwork skirt, pull-cord handbag, and comfy drawstring pants with cotton tee. Stop the Presses quoted his reaction to the commercial triumph, "I am delighted that people across the country will once again have the opportunity to experience my clothing."
In May 1999 he returned in triumph from Greenwich Village to Madison Avenue in uptown New York City, his former location for decades, to market unique collage and slash-technique raincoats and dresses. He extended his contributions to Alixandre, producer of elegant and fashionable fur garments, by designing Persian lamb coats and sheared beaver with one-of-a-kind glazed linen collage on the reverse side. At the Silver Needle Awards and Fashion Show 1999, he summarized his method of blending textures and weaves: "I start out simple and then I go berserk. I mix tweeds with silk. And I like lots of color, from autumn colors to nasty vibrant green."
Throughout the last months of the 20th century and into the 21st, while collectors were stocking their wardrobes with his past glories, van den Akker remained a fashion pacesetter. He served as one of four guest critics of future fashion designers at the Fashion Institute of Technology exhibit entitled White Noise. The 1999 segment of the spirited annual student show at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, interpreted the psychological concept of white noise with 30 garments for adults and children. Despite PETA's protests of his use of fur in coutourier collections, he, along with Oscar de la Renta and Valentino, continued to design for New York-based furrier Alixandre by applying broadtail, fox, lynx, mink, sable, and sheared beaver to winter fashions. Van den Akker's spring/summer line for 2001 perpetuated his tradition of fabric collage and appliquéd couture in softly draping shapes to flatter the figure.
—Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker;
updated by Mary Ellen Snodgrass