Costume design studio The Nightmare Disorder borrows its name from a state where nightmares occur too frequently and reality therefore becomes a blur. Exploring the limits of fantasy and our professed reality, founders Benji and Nemo have quickly become head turners within the industry. Operating in the realms of couture, drag, film and fashion, the designers prove that costume and fantasy shouldn’t be shunned as dirty words.
You met each other during your design studies at ArtEZ. Why did you decide to work together and build your own company?
Nemo: “We’ve actually also been in a relationship for 5 years, I guess that makes us partners in life and in work. We’ve known each other since the first year of ArtEZ. Halfway through the third year we both started an internship. Before, we both had a very strong feeling that there is not a lot more to add to an industry that is already so overstimulating. During our internship we came to the conclusion that we don’t necessarily want to become a part of an existing design team or work for the designers we were interning at. We found that we do have a voice and things to add that are worth exploring.”
Benji: “During graduation year, you start noticing where the different fascinations of people lie and how everyone views the fashion system. Nemo and I always received the same kind of feedback from teachers and quickly found out that we had that same vision on the industry. We also really found each other in our way of working. As a result, we’d grown a lot together and decided that we wanted to set up our own brand.”
How did you eventually merge your aesthetics to what now can only be described as archetypal The Nightmare Disorder?
Nemo: “When we were at the academy, our aesthetics were actually very different. My graduation collection was about a book I was named after; a dream world of a child. My work always reflected a very positive view of the world, in contrast, Benji’s work had an almost dystopian character.”
Benji: “What’s a common denominator is that both our work is very fantasmatic, it’s very much about creating fantasy worlds. We had deliberately chosen to graduate separately in order to shape our own research and fully exploit the core of our personal aesthetic. The collection I entered Lichting 2020 with was therefore explicitly ‘Benji’. What we did after that however, which created the house style for The Nightmare Disorder, is to participate in The Clash House during FASHIONCLASH Festival. We conducted a major experiment by ‘clashing’ our graduation collections. The result was a styling session that merged our opposing aesthetics.”
Would you define The Nightmare Disorder as a fashion brand?
Nemo: “Whereas now, we refer to ourselves as a costume design studio, in the beginning stages of The Nightmare Disorder, we really had a fashion brand in mind. In the fashion industry, fantasy and costume were perceived as dirty words. I say were, because we are noticing a shift in this, especially this past year. I once saw an interview with Tim Walker, in which he said that he uses fashion as a dress-up chest to tell his stories. Our design process always concludes with a costume, but that is actually a vessel for the whole story we want to tell. The word “costume” really sums up our work because it refers to the clothes of the character that we design.”
You’re fascinated by the theatrical and have experimented with both performances and film as vehicles to present your work. How do you choose the way you visualise your designs? Which comes first, the presentation or the costume?
Benji: “Storytelling, nostalgia, craft and character building are the most important pillars of our work. Every aspect has equal value to us, from the design to the presentation. We always start our creative process with a character and build a narrative from there. We ask ourselves what kind of world this character belongs to, which is almost always a fictional one. Fashion is never our dominant lead; however, we use elements of the character’s story and translate them in a way that eventually results in a costume with a clash of references. It’s not about a seasonal product for us, it’s about selling a fantasy. We do want those costumes to go out into the world, but in our eyes they will always be one-of-a-kind pieces, garments with a fantasy story behind them.”
You regularly design costumes for artists, especially Drag Queens. How did you become familiar with this world? What attracts you to these artists?
Benji: “I remember when we were graduating with the fashion film, Thanxx Coronchi, our make-up team fell through last minute and so we were desperately looking for a make-up artist. We approached The Countess, who was the first Drag Queen we ever designed for, to do the make-up for our graduation collection. They were very enthusiastic about our graduation work and said that if they would ever attend Drag Race Holland, they’d approach us for a collaboration. Me and Nemo came up with the elements for their costume and realised that this world we had just entered is a perfect fit for The Nightmare Disorder, because it’s all about character development. Drag Queens are not afraid to go to the extreme, so we can go wild and have complete freedom.”
Nemo: “After our collaboration with The Countess, the ball started rolling and we received DM’s from artists like Chrystal Methyd and Todric Hall. It wasn’t the initial path we thought of taking, but now that we did, it’s so nice we entered this magical world where everything is possible. We really get dream assignments and are glad that this is now a big part of The Nightmare Disorder.”
What does the future of The Nightmare Disorder look like? Are you thinking of expanding into different creative scenes?
Nemo: “We were actually very lucky to be awarded with the Talent Development scholarship from ‘Stimuleringsfonds Creative Industrie’ six months ago. During this program, we were given the opportunity to work with historical costume maker Angela Mombers who makes replicas of historical costumes for museums and films. We followed a course with her to make our own historically accurate costume. We were also able to take a trip to London and interview Jany Temime, the costume designer from House of the Dragon and Harry Potter. We are pouring all this research and knowledge into our debut collection that will be released at the end of this summer!”
Benji: “We’re always trying to get one step closer to the world of fantasy movie costumes since that’s the original goal we had with The Nightmare Disorder. The ultimate dream is to design costumes for a Tim Burton movie. We see the debut collection as a portfolio for the film industry. Apart from that there’s lots of things we’d like to try, and we will also continue to design International drag costumes and manifest interesting collaborations.”