Koos Van Den Akker
Koos Van Den Akker (March 16, 1939 – February 4, 2015) was a Dutch-born fashion designer based in New York City, USA. He was famed for his unique collaged 'Koos' designed clothing and notably the creator of the 'Bill Cosby' Sweaters.
Koos Van Den Akker was born on March 16, 1939 in the Hague, Netherlands. He taught himself to sew using a simple sewing machine and his first creation was a dress made from a white bed sheet for his sister. With a prolific disposition and a comprehensive portfolio at just age 15 he bypassed the 18 year old requirement age to attend the Royal Academy of Art where he studied fashion and made window displays for a department store until he was 18. He then had to spend two years in the Dutch army where his skills were recognized and a workroom in a basement was set up for him where he made clothes for the officers wives and daughters.
After the two years Koos voyaged to Paris to design window displays for the famous Galeries Lafayette but realizing he needed more formal training, in 1961 he enrolled in L'Ecole Guerre Lavigne (l'Ecole Supérieure des Arts et techniques de la Mode, Esmod) which was located in the same building as the Christian Dior workrooms. Every year Christian Dior picked the most gifted students for an apprenticeship and in 1963 Koos was selected. After three years at Dior and learning every detail about crafting beautiful clothes he moved back to the Netherlands and started his own business opened up his first store in The Hague where he slept in a small room in the back. The window displays were lavish with chic and theatrical designs that enthralled onlookers with influences from American movies such as Carousel and movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn dressed by Hubert de Givenchy. But the Netherlands wasn't ready for Koos' designs and anything glamorous or fashionable was shunned by Dutch women so after his father's death in 1968 Koos took off to pursue the wondrous delights of the United States, in particular, New York City.
From a sewing machine on a hotel bed and only $180 in the pocket Koos set up a string of stores including ones on Madison Avenue, Columbus Avenue, Thomson Street Soho, 10th on Bleeker and even one in Beverley Hills, LA. In the mid seventies he even had a wholesale line with a showroom where major upscale stores such as Bonwit Teller, Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Fields, Bloomingdale's and Frost Bros., bought their supplies of Koos'. Overspending and stagnating sales by Koos' business eventually led it to obtain a tax-debt of a half a million dollars.
Until his death Koos had a store at 1263 Madison Avenue, New York, his former location for decades and a studio in the Garment District. Koos maintained a high profile in New York and LA where entertainers such as Julie & Harry Belafonte, Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, Diahann Carroll and Barbara Walters were clients. After the success of the Bill Cosby Sweaters his success was everywhere with more celebrities donning Koos garments with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Chita Rivera, Brooke Shields, Isabella Rossellini, Glenn Close, Lauren Hutton and NBA stars Isaiah Thomas and Magic Johnson wearing his designs.
In 1991 Koos' life-partner John Bell died of AIDS.
Van Den Akker died on February 4, 2015 at the age of 75.
The Bill Cosby Sweaters
The attention gained by Bill Cosby's wearing of Van Den Akker's wild collaged sweaters on television established the designer's reputation with the rich and famous. Soon after Cosby was seen sporting Koos' vibrant sweaters, notables such as Erik Estrada, Chuck Norris and Richard Simmons dinned his sweaters.
Josephine Premice, a singer in the 1980s and a good friend of Koos asked him to make a sweater for a present for Bill Cosby . She took it to the set of the Cosby Show where Bill immediately put in on and wore it for the taping. It was an instantaneous hit. Cosby, then began giving his friends presents made by Koos. Cosby invited friends to New York for a weekend to celebrate his wife Camille's birthday and he asked Koos to open the store on Sunday especially for his guests and told each of them to choose something they liked, many of them are still loyal customers today.
Style - Painting with Fabrics
Van Den Akker was known for his painterly delight in mixing colors, patterns, and textures in unusual, often one of a kind, garments. Always 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 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.
Koos was a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America(CFDA) His 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. Van den Akker collected a following among celebrities and much press from Vogue (magazine), Harper's Bazaar, L'Officiel, i-D ad more recently Vice Magazine.
Van den Akker had 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. In 1978 he was the winner of the Gold Coast Award and in 1983 The American Printed Fabrics Council awarded Koos with a 'Tommy' award.
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."
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.
In 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Academy of Art College as a Doctor of Humane Letters. In the summer of 2008 he became an artist in residence and gave a masterclass for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and in April 2009 also gave a masterclass for Vogue Patterns in Canada.
In 1998 Koos started a label for television retailer QVC called 'Koos of Course!' and presented his own show with the collection selling out in 30 minutes. The line continued on QVC until his final show in February 2006.
Countless people have inspiration from Koos such as the designer Geoffrey Beene did. Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière Spring '02 Line was inspired by Koos. Marc Jacobs Fall '06 Line was also publicized as Koos inspired. More recently Koos has inspired and been working with Illustrator/Designer [Christopher Holloran] - Holzor.
In his own words Koos said "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 best and it's very basic."
Koos couture Collage, biography and how-to sewing book by Linda Chang Teufel, Dragon Threads
- Christian Francis Roth
- Christopher Holloran - Holzor
- "Meet the Creator of the Bill Cosby Sweater" on YouTube