Originally from Montréal, Eloïse Ptito-Echeverria is a textile and fashion designer of Chilean-Moroccan-Jewish heritage. Following her studies, she reconnected with her roots and apprenticed in Santiago, Chile for a year where she learnt about Rococo hand-embroidery and studied Precolumbian-Andina textiles. Later relocating to Amsterdam for love, she discovered the work of Dutch feminist artist Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep, who launched the concept of the “Liberation Skirt” in the aftermath of the Second World War.
After being imprisoned in a concentration camp for resisting the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Mies led a women’s collective devoted to crafting bold, up-cycled, patchwork skirts composed of their own sacred textile remnants, guided by the principles of “unity in diversity”, “new from old”, and “building from the broken”. These “Magic Skirts of Reconstruction” were meant to symbolically celebrate the rebuilding and renewal of the country while processing the pain and trauma of war. And, in an attempt to celebrate the rebuilding of a better world post-COVID, Eloïse has decided to continue where Mies’s movement last left off.
On the upcoming anniversary of the liberation of Herzogenbusch concentration camp in 1944, Eloïse has partnered with her cousin Stephanie Manasseh of SM Art Advisory to tell the story of Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep. Both granddaughters of Jewish Moroccan-textile buyers, they are driven to ensure that Mies’ story is not lost within this generation and that it can thrive through the power of textiles. Eloïse is collecting textile pieces from people all over the world and will make a one-of-a-kind, new liberation skirt to auction in aid of Wereldwijven in October 2021, and patchwork masks dedicated to the movement will also be sold on the SM Art Advisory website from May. The project sounds incredible, so we just had to speak to Eloïse all about it!
What made you first become interested in textiles?
It was a medium that I took innately. However, I think my love of dressing up was a major contributing factor—as well as growing up with a mother who was an artist. She raised me in an ever-changing environment of beauty, bold colour, and unique textiles. I would often come home to find her spontaneously painting a mural in the living room too.
For me, working with textiles feels a lot like painting with fabrics. The needle and thread is the same as a paintbrush. It is also a meditative process for a racing mind like mine, a process where I feel like I can reconnect to my ancestry and to all the important women in my life.
Especially during these isolated times, textiles allow for an almost sacred opportunity to reconnect with my family. For example: even though we are apart, I can feel connected to my Chilean mother with every blanket stitch I make. I can also feel connected to my Moroccan Jewish grandmother—even if she is no longer here—with every garment I sew. I can even feel connected in the fact that I leave pins all over the floor just like her.
What was your experience like apprenticing in hand-embroidery in Chile?
It changed my life. I don’t know where I would be now if I had never taken a year off after my Fine Art Studies to live in Chile and reconnect with my roots. I remember my peers being quite puzzled by my decision at the time—especially since I had no concrete plans. I originally intended to teach English in Santiago, but unexpectedly found opportunities to apprentice with several textile artists instead. One of these artists happened to be an aunt of mine. She was a Rococo embroidery expert who ran an embroidery school in her home atelier. Every week I would join her embroidery circle of inspiring women and enter their enchanting world of tea, stitched gardens, and blooming florals. I started learning the most basic, fundamental stitches and overtime continued onto more intricate flora and roses.
I am forever grateful to her for mentoring me at such a pivotal age and for also introducing me to the work of unconventional textile artists such as Léa Stansal. Artists like her proved to me that there could be great freedom, humour, and rebellion within this traditional medium. I was lucky enough to actually meet Léa for tea in her incredible home in Paris last February before the pandemic hit.
Ultimately, that year formed the foundation of my aesthetic vocabulary and I continuously draw from this experience within my work to this day.
Can you tell us about Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep’s Liberation Skirt?
Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep was a Dutch feminist and artist that founded a textile movement known as “Bevrijdingsrok”. In the aftermath of WWII, she launched the concept of “Feestrok” or the “Liberation Skirt” after being imprisoned in a concentration camp for resisting the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. While imprisoned, she was very inspired by a patchwork scarf that was smuggled into her cell. Each patch of this scarf was imbued with great personal meaning for Mies, as some included pieces of her children’s clothing and even her first ballgown.
Once freed, she led a women’s collective inspired by this very scarf. The collective was devoted to crafting bold, up-cycled, patchwork skirts composed of one’s own sacred textile remnants. Guided by the principles of “unity in diversity”, “new from old”, and “building from the broken”, these “Magic Skirts of Reconstruction” were meant to symbolically celebrate the rebuilding and renewal of the country while processing the pain and trauma of war. With the skirt’s hem line consisting of triangles, these one-of-kind skirts were to be worn during national holidays as a feminine symbol of the personal and political, as well as both individuality and national unity. The skirt’s first triangle was to be embroidered with “5 mei 1945”, while the consequent triangles were stitched with meaningful dates according to each wearer.
In 1949, Mies travelled throughout the United States to speak of the philosophy behind the skirts, with the hopes of “Feestrok” becoming a global symbol of female solidarity. While today the skirts are not completely obsolete, they ultimately did not take off internationally as she had envisioned.
What made you pay attention to the skirts in a Covid-affected world?
As a newcomer to the Netherlands during a global pandemic,I came across Mies’ story online while cooped up inside during the very beginning of lockdown. Isolated from family and friends in what proved to be such an uncertain and difficult time for everyone, I was immediately touched by Mies’ story and shocked that I had never heard of her or of her textile movement prior.
Poetic yet bold, I was struck by how incredibly relevant it felt to the world’s current situation at large. It was moving to see how these commemorative skirts held the power then to serve both as a political and impactful symbol for unity after a period of horrific division and hardship. I also felt a deep kinship to her initiative as I too believe that the slow, yet undeniable power of craft can serve as a tool for togetherness, cultural exchange, and both the collective reimagining and rebuilding of a better world.
While there is obviously a renewed interest in patchwork and craft right now, I am especially curious to see how the core values of “Bevrijdingsrok” can be applied to our world post-pandemic. They can certainly speak to our current environmental disarray, as well as the ever-increasing division occurring globally. I would now love to see how the skirts can once again become a means of processing the difficult events we have collectively gone through, as well as a collaborative effort to celebrate the rebuilding of a better world post-COVID and onwards.
What did it mean to be working with your cousin Stephanie Manasseh on the project?
Unexpectedly reconnecting after so many years, it feels like such a meaningful and organic surprise that life brought my way. I am excited to be partnering on this project with her and very much value her expertise, drive, and vision.
I initially contacted Stephanie to receive her insight on my idea, but she soon encouraged me to bring the story to the press as she felt the story could truly live on this way.
It is especially touching to be working with Stephanie as her mother was my weekly painting teacher growing up and very much encouraged my creativity and personal development. In that sense, it is very special to continue this tradition of familial and creative collaboration as adults.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
For now, I am only attempting to get through the pandemic alongside everyone else. In terms of the future, I only hope to stay true to myself, to continue making authentic decisions, to inspire others through my textile and sartorial experimentation, and if the future allows —to open a boutique-gallery dedicated to colourful and thoughtful clothing, music, and textile art.