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The Wild Whimsy of Van Der Neer

By Bella Q
One of the most intriguing fashion design teams to come out of California's capitol is a modest, soft spoken and charming couple, Sacramento residents, Nicole Kniss and Justin Johnson. Their collections combine a worldview saturated with nostalgic references, a love for whimsy, luxury fabrics and clean lines, assembled with a fresh, modern twist. They call their label, Van Der Neer, a subtle nod to the dreamy landscapes of the famous Dutch master. Kniss and Johnson of Van Der Neer create a similarly dreamlike world, full of whimsy, for your wardrobe.
10/4 Shopping & Style Kniss and Johnson
Photo Credit: Bella Q

"We are completely conceptual. We set out to inspire, not expire, with our clothes. We want people to look beyond what basic fashion is. We see our runways as being an art show. We see the show as being art. We didn't get into this to start selling clothes; it's more of the show and the art form." –Van Der Neer

Van der Neer is a collaborative effort. Kniss and Johnson work together seamlessly, presenting a set of cohesive collections 2-3 times a year, with their now signature artful runway shows. They both grew up together in Placer County, and have been together as a couple for over 8 years. To them, their collaborative efforts seemed a natural evolution.

Kniss started Van der Neer in 2007, designing and sewing the total line herself. Justin started assisting, at first with the construction, but was soon contributing his own designs to the project. They found that they worked very well together. Nicole relates how in sync they can be; "We'll be at the fabric store, not having discussed anything specific and will show up with the same thread and coordinating fabric, it's pretty remarkable how it all falls together." Remarkable, too, is the way they take in their world and translate it in their clothing.

10/4 Shopping & Style Van der Neer, Planet Gold
Photo Credit: Raoul Ortega

Van Der Neer first showed at a Bows and Arrows Second Saturday fashion show, back in '07 along side other local indie fashion folks like Amy Hemmings of Atelier and textile artist, Lindsay Rickman. For Van Der Neer, each collection has been getting grander in its exhibition and presentation. Two shows cited as their favorites are last year's fashion show at the 2010 Neo-Crocker Gala hosted by the Crocker Art Museum, and the on the catwalk of the recent music/art/fashion festival, Launch 2011 which took place this past July at the Greens Hotel. Their collection entitled Planet Gold, was a 14 karat crowd pleaser.

10/4 Shopping & Style Neo Crocker
Photo Credit: Bella Q

Van Der Neer's design inspirations come from film, literary and historical references, and sometimes even random events. "Our models are great inspirations for us," declares Johnson, who goes on to describe an example of his partner Kniss creating an outfit sparked by a certain swan-like waitress of a local café. "We are inspired by beauty, " Johnson explains, "We see people and imagine what that person could be wearing."

Other inspirations include their members of their local fashion community. They list Sacramento jewelry designer Pamela Tuohy-Novinsky of 2ETN, as being one of their biggest real life inspirations." Her and her husband do amazing work," Kniss says. Adds Johnson: "There is no pandering; just pure artistic vision."

"We believe in being part of our community and we have no interest in ego. An ego can burn every bridge a community can make. We like helping the people that are around us, loving the people that are around us. At the end of it all we have all come together." –Van Der Neer

The designers of Van Der Neer are devoted to their hometown, Sacramento, and they hope to one day open up a small salon/gallery featuring all things Van Der Neer. For this idealistic duo, Sacramento is where they dream of doing this. They envision creating monthly capsule collection of very limited editions. They want to create clothes offer "opportunities for adventure" to their wearers. For Kniss and Johnson, Van Der Neer is all about making big dreams grow from small places. For them, their place is Sacramento. "This is our hometown, this is where we will build our empire,"

You can find Van Der Neer online:

Bella Q is a Sacramento-based personal style blogger who is obsessed with independent fashion designers. You can read about her latest style obsessions over at The Citizen Rosebud and see her most recent street style captures at Street Style SACRAMENTO.
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