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Danny Vera on taking the stage in style

A lot has been said about Danny Vera’s career in recent years. And rightfully so, because the resurgence that happened after the release of his 2019 single ‘Rollercoaster’ is unprecedented. It catapulted the country artist from the (relative) margins straight into the limelight. And his aesthetics never changed. Between the highs and lows in his career, the only constant has been the way Danny presents himself – in a distinct fifties-adjacent style. As we’ve been creating some beautiful key pieces with the Dutch musician for over a year now, we felt it was time to sit down and learn more about how clothing factors into his life as an artist… and before that career had even started.

His style has evolved and refined over the years. From young James Dean inspired looks and ‘rhinestone’ ensembles made by his mother to eventually hitting the stage in our made-to-measure suits. Today, Danny uses clothing to create an aesthetic for the biggest performances of his career. A clear recent highlight: his extraordinary show on the mainstage of this year’s Pinkpop festival — which presented an image decades in the making. The vision of an artist that knew where he wanted to go from the moment he discovered Elvis Presley, but took twenty years to manifest.

We are finally back in full swing with festivals this summer after an uncertain two years, especially for an artist. Relieved?

To be honest, I was quite happy with the pandemic, especially at the beginning. I really worked my ass off during the past twenty years, with the last ten years being the craziest. In that regard, the pandemic was truly delightful, oddly enough.

 

The birth of your child also fell during this period, didn’t it?

And the conception! My wife and I had been in the IUI process for four years at that point. So, the Thursday it was announced that all performances had been canceled, was also the day it became clear no one was allowed to go to the hospital, unless they were critically ill. Both my work and the procedure to have a child were cancelled at the same time. I suppose we were able to deal with that, because we had been trying for so long already. And it was nice there was some peace from the whole music thing. At that point, we emptied the wine cellar and within a week my wife was pregnant.

 

Life can be very peculiar. Which could also be said about your career. You had been making music for many years before most people got to know you through your television work. Personally, that’s when I also became aware of you as an artist. The distinct style stood out: the pompadour hairstyle, the overall fifties aesthetic. That must have been your look way before you became visible on television. What is your oldest memory of finding your style?

There’s a memory I remember vaguely, but which, above all, was often repeated by my father. I was two or three. My mother had bought me a pair of checkered trousers and I ab-so-lutely did not want to wear them. They were too ugly. My father always thought it was special I was already so determined, at such a young age.

I also remember buying my own clothes from the moment I could afford them, when I was still quite a young teenager. I remember wanting to look different from my surroundings. Not so much because I wanted to stand out or wanted to belong to a specific group, as at that time there was a strong distinction through subcultural dressing: gabber, grunge, r&b, alternative. It was more that I had a certain “bad taste” from an early age. I walked around in a kind of James Dean look in high school in the early nineties: jeans with rolled-up legs, a white t-shirt and a leather or varsity jacket. People thought it was just crazy.

At one point, I joined a rockabilly band and so became somewhat part of that subcultural group. But I soon found that just I hate group formation. Even though those people dressed more or less the same way I did. I specifically remember I was put off enormously by the ‘rules’ of dressing within a distinct group.

For as long as I can remember I was looking for what I was and wanted to be — that could never be dictated by a group. I think, because of this realization, I've felt comfortable with who I am from a young age. Apart from the usual insecurities everyone encounters in their life, of course.

Today, the classic Americana look that was frowned upon in your youth, is back.

That’s right, yes. It will never really disappear. I always compare my haircut to Converse All-Stars: it’s always there. Sometimes more popular and sometimes less popular, but it’s always around.

 

Were you actually inspired by the fifties, or was that look a coincidence?

Yes, the fifties are it for me! The fifties and the early sixties. That’s still where my heart is at. At a later age, the forties also sparked my interest, but that can quickly feel very costumed nowadays. The style of the fifties and early sixties: just looks so good. To this day. That feeling hasn’t changed since my teenage years. Which also applies to my music: it’s never changed in terms of the genre. Once I discovered Elvis Presley, I found my calling. In my opinion there is nothing or no one who can match Elvis and his impact.

At some point, as a teenager, I started performing, or at least pretending to be an artist, and that’s when my mother started making my clothes too. We would go to the curtain shop, where I would choose a fabric, and she would make a suit out of it. It kind of looked like how Harry Styles has been dressing for the past few years. That was what I wore in the late nineties.

 

Including the signature big pants?

Including those! But that was also because of how she created the suits. She would go to the C&A (department store) and buy a suit, then completely deconstruct it to copy the patterns and eventually cut the curtains I had selected. That wasn’t an airtight process in terms of getting the patterns right. And C&A suits were quite roomy to begin with.

The style of the fifties and early sixties: just looks so good. To this day. That feeling hasn't changed since my teenage years.

How does the image of ‘the artist’ Danny Vera develop from this point on?

This was mainly influenced by my limited financial resources. I got a record deal with Universal in 2002 and at that point I was still on stage in my mother’s suits. Just like in my high school days, people looked at me crazy. At that time, everyone was on stage in ugly oversized printed blouses and jeans. It was all very plain, which in my eyes looked hideous. So, I was on stage in a suit with glitter — something the Toppers wouldn’t even wear.

At the time, I mirrored myself to people like Chris Isaak, who in the 1990s dressed in the glittery 1950s suits by designers like Nudie Cohn. People thought that was cool, but with me it was perceived as weird. The same happened more recently with Daniel Romano: everyone here thinks he’s some kind of punk cowboy, despite his ‘rhinstone suits’. In the Netherlands, people are a lot more negative when you stand out in that fashion as a Dutch artist.

Not because of how people perceived me, but at a certain point I did stop wearing my mother’s suits and I came back to the look I had as a teenager. Varsity jackets, white t-shirts, and jeans. I couldn’t afford much more at that time. Suits had become too expensive. This was before the big chains would sell suits and I didn’t have the means to buy what was available. I did start wearing suits again once the chains arrived in The Netherlands. These were really cheap suits, of course, so the quality left something to be desired, but I felt most comfortable with the image a suit creates.

 

And what happened once your television work took shape?

Then a sponsor presented itself and I had to wear what was being offered. Lumberjack shirts and jeans, which I didn’t really like to be honest. But I wasn’t in a position to say no. A few years later, that sponsorship deal was transferred to another company, and it all became mostly denim. And luckily that brand also had varsity jackets in their collection.

 

Eventually you come back to suits. That’s the image I have in my head from the past few years when your career took off astronomically.

When I could afford it and became no longer dependent on sponsors, I immediately started wearing suits again. That’s what I feel most comfortable with. It’s also easy, by the way. I never have to think about what to wear: I take a suit out of the closet, and I combine it with a white or black shirt. The suit dictates the choice here: I don’t really have to think about it for a second. Having to ‘combine’ all those separate elements, would be quite the horror for me. When I wear a suit, I know what I represent, especially because I’m most comfortable in them.

I sometimes see people walking around in a suit, with the discomfort written all over it. As if the suit fits badly or was produced badly. But then it turns out that it’s a suit someone once spent €1500 on because of a wedding. That’s a lot of money, but it can’t mask the discomfort. Personally, I feel very comfortable in suits. Even when the they weren’t of the high quality, like the Atelier Munro ones I wear now.

The moment you started wearing Atelier Munro suits, was also the moment you began to perform on the biggest stages in the Netherlands and Belgium. Does that new scale have an influence on the overall image you want to create with your clothing?

Of course, everything has its role. I’ve always been concerned with how I present myself as an artist to my audience. Now that I play the largest possible stages, I also want to create an image that fits that scale.

In a way, it has come full circle: starting with the suits my mother made for me to the suits I create for myself with Atelier Munro. Just as with the curtains, today I also always start with the fabric – to eventually create a product and style that is exactly the way I envisioned it.

Amongst other pieces, I had two pinstripe suits made for the festival season this summer. In my experience, great suits with that aesthetic are literally nowhere to be found — except in the party store as an Al Capone costume. I also had a pink double-breasted suit made for the biggest festival of them all: Pinkpop. I have to wear a black shirt underneath it, otherwise it looks crazy. Same as if it had not had a double-breasted closure, it would have simply been ‘a funny pink suit’ to begin with. That would have made it feel like a costume again. They are seemingly small elements, but with the right accents, I can now create a great image that is just right. That fits the main stage of a festival like Pinkpop and an audience of 50,000.

In a way, it has come full circle: starting with the suits my mother made for me to the suits I create for myself with Atelier Munro.

 At Pinkpop, the outfit was part of a bigger picture. Is creating that strong overarching aesthetic exemplary for the artist Danny Vera today?

Inspired by my favorites from the fifties, we had a new violet velvet backdrop made for that performance. At large festivals I play during the day, so you can’t really manipulate your background with light, which you can do in a dark venue. So especially for Pinkpop — which was the biggest concert this festival season, including a series of concerts with Vrienden van Amstel Live and several ‘Groots met een zachte G’ concerts in the PSV stadium — we had that backdrop made to create a unique look to fit the scale of the concert.

The moment you saw that curtain hanging, the big Vegas style “Danny Vera” letters, the whole band, the background singers — it creates a performance that lives up to being a ‘show’. You might not like the music, and even if you coincidently happened to be at the concert, we pulled out all the stops to offer people a special afternoon. That suit is an important part of that experience. The pink also just went really well with that violet background.

 

And of course, a pink suit is something Elvis was known for too. I don’t think as an artist you can pay homage in a grander way to a larger-than-life artist like Elvis Presley.

I think so! Elvis, late 1950s America, Las Vegas — all my references became part of that show. Things like Las Vegas are more often referred to by others. But honestly, these are things that have inspired me for pretty much all my life. They are part of the fabric that became the artist, Danny Vera. These influences belong to me as a person, and I’ve made them my own. I am finally able to fully express that style in all facets of what I convey as an artist. It is one of the greatest rewards of this point in my career.

The fact I can now work with all kinds of different people, including Atelier Munro, and create things exactly how I have them in mind, is a privilege! That ranges from the shows and the stage designs to the very last details in the suits I wear. Getting to that point has been a project I worked on for twenty years. Now I can finally show people what I had in mind all along.

Want to see his style live? Catch Danny on tour this summer across the Netherlands.

Interview
Christoph van Veghel
Color photography
Ben Houdijk
Black & white photography
Escha Tanihatu