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Tails From Amsterdam

MR PORTER meets the four-legged elite of Holland’s charming capital city

Presumably, dogs like the same things about Amsterdam that humans do: the abundance of water; the pleasing scale of the architecture; the density of parks and the narrow cobbled streets (perfect, in fact, for long, leisurely walks). Add to this the fact that Holland is one of the few countries in the world with a political party dedicated to protecting the rights of animals (at least, a party that actually has seats in parliament) and it’s clear to see why its capital is a city of happy canines and happy owners.

To celebrate this fact, MR PORTER spent several days in Amsterdam, visiting the city’s preeminent pets and the thoroughly creative types they live with. If you’ve ever wondered if you have enough time for a Jack Russell, or how to pull off a pair of Chihuahuas, do read on. 

Mr Erik Schilp, 48, and Bram

Is “living room envy”, strictly speaking, a thing? It must be, because MR PORTER has it, with regard to Mr Erik Schilp and his phenomenally decorated apartment in Amsterdam’s De Wallen neighbourhood. The stomach knots started when we saw a photographic portrait of Mr Lucian Freud hanging on one wall and continued with the series of prints by Ms Marlene Dumas, arranged neatly across the other. The Sottsass lamp nearly finished us off completely. But thankfully, we survived long enough to learn about Mr Schilp himself, a former director of the Zuiderzee Museum and Holland’s National Museum of History, who now advises a wide range of cultural institutions via multidisciplinary agency/ collective Dutch Bonnet.

Living in Amsterdam, of course, is rather useful for this kind of work. “Holland has the highest density of museums in the world,” he says. “That’s an extreme luxury, not only for people who come to visit but for people who live here.” As is probably obvious from the above description, Mr Schilp is a keen collector of art and design. He attributes this to “being a dreamer as a child”. Consequently, alongside his consultancy duties he runs De Gulle Ekster (Generous Magpie), a site that issues affordable editions of works by artists, including painter Mr Gijs Frieling and photographer Mr Koos Breukel. Mr Schilp’s dog, Bram, is a two-year-old Shar-Pei/ Airedale Terrier cross, who he rescued as a puppy from a shelter. He shares custody of Bram with his partner, Mr Brian Varma.

How would you describe Bram’s personality?

Actually, he’s a bit like me. He’s not very good in the mornings. After the first walk we usually go back to bed and sleep for a couple of hours. And he’s really a social animal. He always wants to be with people. If we go to a restaurant, he’s happiest if he can have a chair, and sit.

Has he ever knocked over any of your objets d’art?

No, he’s knocked over some glasses with his tail, maybe. But he doesn’t go into that room unless I bring him in. From the beginning I said I would not dog-proof the house – the dog has to get used to it.

What other things does Bram like to do?

The thing he’s absolutely in love with is the beach. A couple of times a year we go to the islands in the north of the Netherlands. On the boat, he already knows where we’re going. He’s like a child, so happy. Because he can roam free, and chase rabbits, and run on the beach and swim in the sea. And there’s a fireplace in the house we stay in, so he can lie in front of that and snore.

Is snoring a bad habit of his?

Yes, I guess. But who doesn’t?

Mr John Argento, 44, and Abel

To reach the home of Shinola’s European managing director Mr John Argento, MR PORTER has to take a 30-minute drive south of Amsterdam to the village of Loenen aan de Vecht. It’s very pretty, and very Dutch. There are leafy canals. And church steeples. And pleasure boats. And, yes, a windmill. As we walk around with Mr Argento and his dog, Abel, he jokes that he should have probably brought a giant roundel of cheese with him, to complete the perfect postcard picture.

Born in Montreal, he’s lived here for almost a decade, in a former merchant’s house dating back to the 1700s, which sits on the banks of the river Vecht. It’s undeniably idyllic. “Some of my friends laugh when I say I can see sheep and cows out my window,” says Mr Argento. “But it’s really calming.” To be fair, when he’s not here, he says, he’s something of a “workaholic”, busy overseeing the growth of Shinola and Filson (both owned by Mr Tom Kartsotis’ Bedrock Manufacturing company) in European markets, and in the process redefining what it means to be a “luxury” brand.

“It’s become a word that gets thrown at everything,” he says, “but for us, luxury is about a principle and a value of how you do something. It’s not just about a price tag.” He’s just come back from a trip to Shinola’s headquarters in Detroit, which turned into something of a road trip across the American South. Abel, a 12-year-old Jack Russell, was with him every step of the way.

How would you describe Abel’s personality?

Abel has a total range of emotions, from happy to sad to depressed. He’s totally responsive. He’s totally tuned in.

He gets sad?

Whenever we leave, he gets really down, because he’s used to being with us all the time. We take him everywhere. Restuarants. On holidays. I now luckily can take him to work when I’m here.

Tell us about taking him on the road…

I flew with him to Detroit, then I flew with him to Nashville, too. He came along, everywhere we went. From Nashville, through the Smoky Mountains, all the way down through Charleston and Savannah on to Miami. We stayed in a cabin. He had a close encounter with a raccoon. It was all really adventurous and exciting.

How does having a dog fit in your busy schedule?

Two or three times in the day, I need to take him on a walk – that’s my job in the household. It really helps you to break mentally from whatever you’re doing; your stresses of life or work.

Mr Alexander van Slobbe, 56, and Emma

Amsterdammers will often tell you that their hometown is a small one, where everyone knows everyone. Sit for a while with fashion designer Mr Alexander van Slobbe outside the shop for his women’s brand Orson + Bodil on Herenstraat (he has a special bench for doing so), and you’ll be convinced of this fact – such is the frequency with which he says hello to passing friends. One explanation for this is that Mr van Slobbe is something of a national treasure – his sleek, minimal designs for his men’s brand SO made him, in the early 1990s, one of Dutch style’s most notable and successful exports. The other explanation is that he’s a thoroughly nice chap, who discusses his pioneering design work with an amicable humility.

“I think I’m quite Dutch,” he says, matter-of-factly. “By which I mean that when I started out there were not many fashion designers here. They all came after me – Viktor & Rolf and those people. What we in Holland really have is architecture, graphic design, photography. Those kinds of things. So actually I started with [De Stijl designer] Rietveld.” Mr van Slobbe’s calm exterior belies a man involved in many projects. Alongside designing collections for Orson + Bodil, he’s just launched Hacked, a collaborative line with fellow Amsterdammer Mr Francisco van Benthum, in which the two designers have taken on fast fashion by repurposing and upcycling garments from high-street deadstock. “It’s just been two months but it’s become, slowly, a success,” he says. “You’ll have to call me again next year and see how it’s going.” Hacked is also participating in the upcoming Temporary Fashion Museum at Rotterdam’s New Institute, which opens on 13 September. Mr van Slobbe’s dog, Emma, is a one-and-a-half-year-old Tacoma Dachshund, who accompanies him each day to his design studio.

Why did you want a Dachshund?

I love to have big dogs as well but in the city it’s not that easy. So from this came the idea of having a smaller dog. And this dog is really a dog. You have these smaller dogs that are not dogs. They have a temper!

But Emma is more calm?

She’s quite a sweet, lovely dog. She’s shy at the moment. She has to get used to somebody and then she’ll give her love to them. But it takes some time. On the other hand, she always wants to sit on your lap.

What does Emma most like doing?

She loves to play on square, green fields. It’s amazing, really. It has to be square, and then she goes really crazy.

Mr Damian Bradfield, 38, Timo

Before MR PORTER meets Mr Damian Bradfield, we briefly discuss him with the photographer, Mr Luca Campri. The conversation goes, more or less, like this:
MR PORTER: “Did you know he’s one of the people behind WeTransfer?”
Mr Campri: “Wow, that guy has really made my life a lot easier.” 

We imagine many other people will feel the same, whether they’ve used the attractive file-sharing service for sending multi-gigabyte files across continents or merely for whizzing over a few holiday snaps to their parents. But there’s more: alongside WeTransfer, which Mr Bradfield set up with his partner, the former blogger Nalden (née Mr Ronald Hans) in 2009, he also runs Present Plus, an innovative design incubator which provides strategy, video content and visuals to clients ranging from Hyatt hotels to Post NL, the Dutch national postal service.

In Amsterdam, it seems, he is perfectly placed for this kind of work. “What Amsterdam has that other cities in the world don’t have is a strong focus on design,” he says. “Here, design is everything. If you go round villages in Holland, you’ll see that a lot of people have pretty ugly housing, but inside they’ll have modern furniture. Design’s always been a big part of life here.” MR PORTER has already visited Mr Bradfield once before (read the My Space story to take a tour of the Present Plus office). But this time we’re interested in his magnificent dog Timo, a four-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, who has become a key member of Mr Bradfield’s family.


Why did you decide to get a dog?

It was a family decision. Both my wife and I grew up with pets so it was inevitable we were going to have pets. To be honest, we said cats [first of all], but I think cats are sort of pointless.

So definitely a dog person then? Why?

With a dog you can interact. He’s the best animal I ever had in my life. My grandad always had animals, and he used to say, “Oh, I can’t go on holiday because of the dog.” And I couldn’t understand. It’s just a dog – leave him! But I get it now because we plan everything around Timo. When we go on holiday, we make sure we go somewhere we can take the dog. It sounds stupid, but it’s really worth it.

Why is Timo such a good dog?

He’s the ideal combination. You can go running with him and he’s fit enough to run 10 miles and not be completely worn out. He’s intelligent enough that if there’s 20 people in the room and it’s super-noisy he’ll just go into the corner and keep quiet.

Does he have any favourite activities?

We’re just teaching him to catch a Frisbee, which he seems to love.

Mr Joost Doeswijk, 41, Luna and Billy

Mr Joost Doeswijk’s home in multicultural De Baarsjes, to the west of the city centre, is tastefully decorated with earthy-looking knick-knacks, from framed feathers to quartz crystals and copper pots. There’s even a giant cow’s skull, wearing a bandanna, hanging on the wall. It’s therefore unsurprising to learn that he’s a vintage obsessive and diehard eBay fanatic. Together with his wife Ms Elza Wandler, he puts this passion to good use in the accessories brand Atelier de l’Armée, which offers a range of covetable bags and pouches, made with vintage fabrics (the Collectors collection) and new textiles inspired by his vintage finds (the Series collection). The couple launched the brand in 2011, after working in various positions within the fashion industry in Amsterdam. It started off as a weekends and evening concern, but now they both work on the brand full time. When he’s not on eBay, of course. His best purchase? “I think my wedding suit. It was vintage moleskin, from France. I found the trousers on eBay, they’re all patched. It’s definitely a piece that I will always treasure.” When Mr Doeswijk met Ms Wandler, he also adopted her dog, Luna, an eight-year-old Chihuahua/ Papillon mix. Since they have added another canine to their household, in the form of Billy, a Chihuahua, who is six.

How would you describe your relationship with your dogs?

They are like children, seriously. Chihuahuas are always enthusiastic. Especially Billy. He’s like a little Buddha. It’s a joy. But he’s also a dog, if you throw him a stick he gets it.

Sorry to ask, but does no one ever make fun of you for taking two Chihuahuas for a walk?

I don’t give a s**t, actually. The first time I saw Luna I really laughed my ass off, because he was so small and he came to me like [makes dog noises] and I was like, “What do you want, man?” It was so funny. And then completely… I started loving him. The one thing is that you always have to be careful when there are bigger dogs around. You have to protect them.

What are their hobbies?

Billy licks everything. If there’s somebody next to him in the elevator he will… [slurps]. If there’s a leather jacket, particularly [slurps]. Luna’s just fragile. We don’t give him any rules, he can do whatever he wants.

Mr Jristian Limsico, 37, and Attila

In Amsterdam, everyone, apparently, has a fantastic work/ life balance. “Hmm,” says Mr Jristian Limsico when we put this to him – a rather noncommittal answer, probably prompted by the fact that the photographer-turned-art-director now not only serves as global creative director for Tommy Hilfiger, but also Calvin Klein. (Tommy’s parent company, PVH, bought the US brand in 2012.) “Essentially, my work is quite intense,” he says, describing his meeting-filled days, in which he oversees a creative team of 28. He does, however, concede that it’s rather convenient living in Amsterdam’s central Jordaan neighbourhood, as his house is just a seven-minute bike ride from his office.

Born in Manila and raised in Sydney, Mr Limsico came to Amsterdam 12 years ago. Despite the heavy workload, when MR PORTER meets him in his art-filled home, he’s spritely, and even rather inquisitive. “What’s the longest time you’ve been in Amsterdam,” he asks, at one point. “Are you a dog person?” This, of course, flagrantly tramples on standard interview procedure, but feels pleasantly hospitable nonetheless. Mr Limsico has lived with dogs all his life (his father bred Dobermans) and now owns a six-year-old English bulldog called Attila, whose main passions in life are tennis balls and balloons.

What’s so great about English bulldogs?

They don’t need to be walked a lot. I find them to be a very attractive breed. I had an English bulldog when I was 12, named Bubbles. Ever since then I’ve always wanted one. They are such characters. And have this crazy personality.

What’s Attila like?

He can be loving when he wants to be, but he can also be moody. I have friends who have dogs who run up to their owners. Attila doesn’t. He sits on the couch, he looks at you, gives you an eye roll and then goes back to sleep.

And you like that? Why?

I love his independence, that he has a mind of his own. I guess I have a similar personality as well.

Do you think owners always share character traits with their dogs?

I think it’s only natural. They live with you day in and day out.

Mr Eddy Frings, 53, Truffel and Bliksen

Stylist Mr Eddy Frings hails from the Netherlands’ Limburg province, from a town called Stein. “Almost nobody knows where it is,” he says, although “it’s the only place in Holland where there are hills. It’s not flat and boring like the rest of it.” Mr Frings moved to Amsterdam in his twenties, ostensibly to study fashion but also “to get out of the countryside” and, aside from a year in Paris, he has lived there ever since.

His styling work focuses on interiors and tableware, and has been featured in a variety of magazines, from Elle Decoration to the Dutch edition of Jamie. On his website, he calls this “Eddytorial”, a quip that MR PORTER very much appreciates. Currently he lives in Amsterdam Noord, once a quiet neighbourhood that is now being gradually colonised, as is the rest of the known universe, by tattooed hipsters. Nevertheless, he still has his own slice of paradise carved out here, in the form of his cottage-like house – bedecked with photographs, illustrations and 1970s-era lighting – and his wonderful garden, in which he grows tomatoes, lemons, strawberries and even quince. “What I like about living where I live is that you’re close to the town but you do have your peace and quiet. It’s nice to come home and enjoy the silence.” Since he was a young boy, he’s always had a dog, and gets bored without one. His current pack is made up of Truffel, a nine-year-old Glen of Imaal Terrier, and Bliksen, a seven-year-old Dutch Smoushond.

Two dogs, huh. Do they get on?

In the beginning it was tricky because Truffel was kind of dominant, and she wasn’t very friendly. But it settled down. It took a few months. The first year I was wondering, “Is this going to be all right or one day is she going to kill it?” But animals are very clever; they’re good at knowing their position. People sometimes don’t. But dogs will give up the fight if they know they can’t win. They both know now that I’m the boss, then Truffel, then Bliksen.

How would you describe their personalities?

Truffel’s more moody than Bliksen. Bliksen is happy-go-lucky, she just thinks everything’s fun and great, she thinks everybody’s nice. And Truffel is more… calm. But she’s also more stubborn and strong-minded.

Do they do any tricks?

No. I’m very happy if they sit down, when I tell them to sit. They’re not very well trained, I have to admit. But as long as they don’t bite anybody and don’t bark too much, that’s fine. They’re animals. I don’t want them to learn too many tricks. They’ll do anything for food. But all dogs will.