Cold, industrial, and unmistakably Dutch.
Ironically, There’s a Surf Brand Doing Rather Well in Holland
The beauty of staying small, nimble and on message.
You can tell a lot about a person from how they run an instagram account.
I’ve met numerous friends through 'following' their respective businesses, then hitting them up, only to find they’re the same age and stage as I am. Paul Zeper, of New Amsterdam Surf Association, is certainly one of them. And I met Paul for the first time in the Dutch capital last year. Strange as it sounds, I’m grateful to the social media age for facilitating these sorts of relationships. It sure makes a 48 hour stopover in the Netherlands a pleasure.
The bat signal for Amsterdam's hungry surf population.
I’ve been following New Amsterdam’s progress for over a year, and things are happening. It’s ironic, in a sense, that a ‘surf’ brand from the Dutch capital (an hour from the North Sea where short period, freezing windswell is the best you can hope for) should be making waves in a time when 'surf' apparel continues to dwindle, but when you lay out the ingredients that Paul pours so masterfully into his brand—concept, identity, and meticulous, clean design—then it’s actually not that surprising at all. In brand awareness terms, Amsterdam is the Nike of cities. It’s got an unmistakable aura. Using 'Bondi' to sell juice is lazy. Using 'Amsterdam' to sell premium surf garments? That's smart.
New Amsterdam's fearless leader.
Since we hung out in the Dutch capital last October Paul has quit his part-time gig as a stylist to focus purely on New Amsterdam, released a new collection, inked a deal with Holland’s biggest department store (De Bijenkorf, which for context is owned by Selfridges) and impregnated his long time partner Nicky. So we had a bit to discuss when we finally negotiated the time difference to chat on FaceTime. Paul in sunny Amsterdam, and I in windy, dark Coledale.
NASA women's, watch this space...
“I don’t want to jinx, but it’s actually been going pretty good since lockdown,” an ever-immaculately dressed Paul tells me. “At the moment people are at home, they don’t spend their money on food or clubbing or festivals, they spend it online on clothing, so the web store’s been going through the roof since Corona.”
You could argue until you're blue in the face about what's 'core', or you could just go surfing in the North Sea.
Authenticity is paramount to success in the rag trade, and Paul’s passionate about his brand reflecting its surroundings. “Graphics wise, the identity needs to look like a corporate organisation instead of a surf brand,” he says. “It should look industrial, almost architectural in a way, and not very…” Paul pauses and I offer the word: “wanderlust”. “Exactly,” he says. “I was going to say ‘hippie’, but that works better.” Paul’s English is nearly perfect, although when I visited and he struggled converting “gentrification” to “gentrified”, his partner Nicky, a doctor whose English is perfect, told him his English was “shit”. I offered that most of the English-speaking world don’t even know what “gentrification means”, let alone know what its past participle is and they both shrugged.
Paul's latest range is centred around sudden weather change. “When the first rays hit after winter everybody is straight into bikinis, and all the white people end up burnt,” he tells me. “So I wanted to do something with burning, and then it always comes in waves. We get a heat wave then always after it it’s thunder storms, so that’s where some graphics, shades and colours were taken from." Last year when we strolled through the red light district (in the daytime) Paul pointed out the Casa Rosso, one of the most famous erotic theatres in Amsterdam, and said how much he wanted to use its iconic pink elephant logo for a graphic. We joked about being summoned by Amsterdam’s criminal under world (Paul cleared it and avoided getting his kneecaps altered), so I enquired as to whether he’d 'borrowed' anything for the latest collection. Paul stringently denies the allegation, before laughing. “Oh, actually that’s a lie,” he says, before telling me about the Modigilani painting he altered. Paul’s a graphics master, and putting sunburnt tan lines on an Italian masterpiece is surely some of his best work.
The latest NASA drop occurred in the depths of Dutch lockdown, so Paul and the team got creative in light of a regular campaign.
After spending time in Amsterdam with Paul—eating croquettes, poking our heads into chic streetwear stores that stock his clothing, bumping into numerous surfer friends—it struck me what an important element community was for his brand. Even with the freshest graphics in the world, clothes are inanimate objects that are all relatively similar. So ultimately, fashion is about people. And it's something that Paul’s conscious of. There’s a New Amsterdam ‘team’, but it’s made up of friends rather than riders chosen for their surfing proficiency. “It’s actually good that the team aren’t the best surfers, it makes it more about passion and building it together,” Paul says. “One of the guys does fashion studies so he helps with the clothing. And then another does online marketing so he helps with that. So we surf, but we also help each other.” I point out that you can’t fake people being friends, and that’s the genius of brands like Palace and Supreme who’ve always used friends to market their gear.
“Exactly. Supreme still doesn’t really feel that corporate,” Paul says. “We definitely get inspiration from that. Getting models for a photoshoot is a fucking headache, and you’re always looking for a way to create a story. When you see friends interacting and you can tell by their faces that they surf and like hanging out. That realness is key to everything we do.”