By: Kandice Che
An alum of Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs and Walter Van Beirendonck at Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Meryll Rogge has been captivating the fashion world with her happily ambivalent, eclectic silhouettes for quite some time. But with the desire to create something more personal, Rogge took to the Belgian countryside just outside her hometown to launch her namesake label, setting up shop in a renovated 19th-century barn that her family has lived in since she was six. There, Rogge explores playing with the ultra-masculine and hyper-feminine with a forward-looking exuberance, delivering some of the most thought-provoking collections of this era. Read on as she walks us through her first encounters with fashion, reasons for moving to the countryside and hopes for her brand—and the world.
Walk us through your childhood. What were some of your earliest memories of fashion?
Looking back, I was always surrounded by fashion from the day I was born. When I was five or six, I wanted to become an illustrator. But when I was around 14 years old, I had a teacher who told me to pursue a fashion career because my sketches were always focused on clothing. Both my grandmothers also loved fashion. I think it was my grandmother on my mother's side who had her clothes custom made, which was quite normal back then, but they were her designs, which was not typical for that time. My other grandmother was obsessed with fashion and always dressed up to the nines. She even owned a clothing store for a while.
Tell us about your background in fashion.
Believe it or not, I didn't mind going to the dentist when I was young. My dentist had a mini satellite TV with non-European channels. When I arrived, he would always switch the channel to FashionTV or the Fashion File show with Tim Blanks. I also would read my grandmother's Hola! Runway magazines and pore over all the runway collections. I started to love fashion, and at 17, I wanted to immediately apply for the Royal Academy's Fashion Department in Antwerp, but I ended up doing my bachelor's in law first. Later, when I was at the Royal Academy, I applied for summer internships in the U.S., and Marc Jacobs invited me to come to New York. I stayed for seven years and returned to Belgium to work with Dries on his women's collections.
After an impressive career at Marc Jacobs and Dries Van Noten, what inspired you to start your namesake label?
I always knew I would launch my own brand; it was just a matter of time. My three contemporary fashion idols were Miuccia Prada, Dries Van Noten and Marc Jacobs. So, I wanted to learn from them, from the best, before starting my label.
What is the Meryll Rogge DNA?
I don't follow trends, because you should always love your wardrobe and feel good in each piece, no matter where or when you bought it. So, I would say that our DNA plays and experiments with proportions while embracing traditional feminine and masculine shapes. I like to create intriguing new meeting points for "opposites." For example, I design by mixing the sharp simplicity of menswear alongside the elegance of eveningwear. The result is always beautiful and unexpected.
What do you hope someone will feel when they put on one of your designs?
I wish for my designs to bring out your inner self, your strength and own individual person—so that you can feel beautiful, inside and out, in your own independent way. We spend a lot of time thinking about the comfort for the wearer as well.
Where do you usually draw your inspiration from?
I'm always seeking interesting combinations that emerge at intersections of different genres; this is where I draft my rules of what I would call a rigorous yet proudly unconventional way to dress. For instance, my first collection, "The Last Days of Disco," dives into the poetic imagery of photographers David Armstrong and Nan Goldin, as portrayed in their book A Double Life. They seem out of touch with reality, like the lost souls of disco drawn into the bleak daylight. The collection plays with the dual nature in between times and places, traditional business attire and festive party props and where hyper-femininity meets the mundane.
Tell us why you chose to start your company in the Belgian countryside—far from the capitals of fashion (Antwerp, New York) you had previously worked in.
I've invested all my savings and earnings in the company, and those cities can be expensive places to live in. I may be living in the countryside, but I am a two-hour train ride away from Paris or London and Milan by plane. Now that I think of it, we actually live in the center of Europe!
How do you go about conceiving a new collection? What does that process look like?
My creative process lives in my head and evolves until the final piece is designed. Typically, at the end of the previous collection development, I start to get seeds of ideas in my head for the next one. We then create concepts and begin selecting and designing the kind of fabrics we need to make that image happen. We produce 70% of our fabrics ourselves in unique colors, prints and graphics, so we start doing image research and think of shapes and details, characters for each material. From there, the whole collection begins to take shape.
What is your vision and hope for the post-COVID fashion world?
I believe in a world where less is more, where quality prevails over quantity. A world that is beautiful with more individuality. A world where buying better instead of more is the norm, where "loving fashion" is like an investment that you respect and want to take care of. A world where good is so good that you want to hold on to it for the longest time possible.
What's next for Meryll Rogge—as a person, a designer and a brand?
As a person, I wish for the pandemic to end as soon as possible ... so I can enjoy life with my friends and family again as people instead of seeing them through Zoom or video. It's important we can hug each other again; the world needs it more than ever!
As a designer, I wish to continue making beautiful collections that help the wearer be their own individual selves. I wish to continue designing garments that become a part of someone's life journey. My brand is for everyone to enjoy regardless of their color, socioeconomic or cultural background, religion, sexual orientation or personal identification. So, my ultimate hope for this brand is to become a positive part of the world in a way that will give back to it.
I'm looking forward to the exciting way ahead of me.