Jan 19, 2008
Amsterdam's red-light district gets a fashion makeover
Jan 19, 2008
AMSTERDAM, Jan 19, 2008 (AFP) - Amsterdam's world famous red-light district transformed into a catwalk Saturday, January 19th with designers parading their creations in what were once brothels, as the city tries to clean out crime from the quarter.
Amsterdam's world famous red-light district transformed into a catwalk Saturday, January 19th - Photo : Olaf Kraak/AFP
Beautiful people chattered to each other over top of the blaring music and speeches as models in extravagant outfits graced what up until recently was primarily home to the world's oldest profession.
This event was prepared along one of the Dutch capital's canals and a domain of prostitution. Fueling the change was the municipality's aim to release the area from the clutch of crime and gangs.
Amsterdam has been famous for its red-light district -- known in Dutch as the Wallen -- for more than 100 years, although prostitution has only been legal in the Netherlands since 2000.
However, armed with new laws enabling the closure of establishments suspected to be involved in criminal activity, the city last year bought 55 buildings -- where brothels were housed -- from a former prostitution baron.
The city was then in need of a new activity to subsequently bring new life to the buildings.
"During a working visit from the municipal authorities in the area last April, I suggested: 'Why don't you put fashion designers here?'," explained Mariette Hoitink, director of fashion agency HTNK.
A few months later, the city took her up on the idea and asked her to find interested 20 designers -- thereby giving birth to the project "Red Light Fashion Amsterdam".
"I have no shortage of candidates! I could have put in students or young people in trouble, but I chose to put confirmed talent there," said Hoitink.
According to Hoitink, the well-known designers are grateful for the assistance the project has brought them.
"Contrary to popular belief, that they are well-known does not imply they are rich. Their work is expensive, and they are happy to find an affordable space here to display, work and live," she said.
Along the canal, the contrast is jarring.
Shop front windows display women in gaudy lingerie advertising their bodies to passers-by. But this monotony is broken by smooth new displays in shop windows where mannequins don sophisticated clothing and are drapped in all that is "in".
But it is still too early for the newcomers to rest on their laurels.
The city has set a deadline by which the project must prove its success. The designers have one year to bring a new dynamic to the area and draw a "new clientele, for an economy of quality", said the deputy mayor of Amsterdam Lodewijk Asscher.
As such, beds in the old brothels have not been moved and could be put to their old use once again if the project fails.
In the meantime, said Asscher, "the women will not disappear from here, but we do not want more traffic of women, or crime. We want to be once again proud of the Wallen."by Gerald de Hemptinne
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