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Part of the
exhibition

Amsterdam, the Magic Center Art and counterculture 1967-1970

7 Jul 2018 until 6 Jan 2019

Mini story — 3 Jul 2018 — Harm Stevens

In the late 1960s it’s all about kreative living, and kommunikation forms the core of this movement.* It naturally involves new outfits. In 1967 the speespak (‘spaze suit’) is introduced, a leisure suit with zippers for the homo ludens (playful human) with ‘leg benefits’: the zippered trouser legs could be exchanged for others. The name refers to the space travel for good reason: these are clothes for the future, made by Iris de Leeuw of the Maastricht artists’ collective the Luuks Laboratorium. The speespak is intended to break the taboo on ‘touching the intimate areas’ close to the erogenous zones, where the zippers were placed.
* Alternative spelling was an essential component of this new way of life, and became common practice during the 1960s.

Iris de Leeuw, Orange space suit, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Iris de Leeuw, Orange space suit, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The speespakken, or “space suits,” an accompanying certificate of authenticity, and the order card are products created by Luuks Laboratorium, an artists’ collective from Maastricht that is often associated with the Amsterdam Provo movement, but also led an entirely separate existence. Luuks Laboratorium was also known as the Ontbijt op Bed (“Breakfast in Bed”) group, named after the title of the magazine the group published in 1966 and 1967. Luuks offered—in the words of that time—“a workspace in which, in a completely new environment, creative behavior is induced….” In other words, the space suit is an avant-garde suit designed for a new era. It is leisure clothing, apparel for Homo ludens, or the playful man.

A horizontal zipper around the top of both trouser legs enables the wearer to unzip and remove the legs. The advantages of this are explained on the certificate: 

“If you happen to meet someone wearing different ‘Luuks trousers’—you can of course swap them (once given, no taking it back)—a great kommunikaasiebezigheden (“communicative activity”) in social spaces.”

— Space suit certificate of authenticity, 1966-1967, Luuks Laboratorium/Iris de Leeuw (1947)
  • Iris de Leeuw, Blue space suit jacket, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
    Iris de Leeuw, Blue space suit jacket, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • Iris de Leeuw, Lilac space suit, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
    Iris de Leeuw, Lilac space suit, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • Iris de Leeuw, Space suit pants, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
    Iris de Leeuw, Space suit pants, 1966 – 1967. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • Space suit order card, 1966-1967, Luuks Laboratorium/Iris de Leeuw (1947)
    Space suit order card, 1966-1967, Luuks Laboratorium/Iris de Leeuw (1947)
  • Space suit certificate of authenticity, 1966-1967, Luuks Laboratorium/Iris de Leeuw (1947)
    Space suit certificate of authenticity, 1966-1967, Luuks Laboratorium/Iris de Leeuw (1947)

The idea was that the taboo of entering another’s personal space when undoing and doing up each other’s zippers—even touching their erogenous zones, because it was there that the zippers were attached—would be broken. The certificate, which was meant to be kept in a specially designed trouser pocket, promoted the adaptive and playful options offered by the suit. 

“Luuks adapts to the situation. [...] This suit allows you endless freedom of movement, so that the Homo ludens or luuksmens gets the chance to play with his own clothes. Within the apparent limitations of this prototype plan, there are many possible combinations and, moreover—and this is what it’s all about—lots of possibilities for communication.” 

— Text on the certificate of authenticity of the space suits

In early 1967 Iris de Leeuw, co-creator and maker of the first suits, started a space suit-making community with Luud Schimmelpennink, the Amsterdam Provo who came up with the White Bicycle Plan. They produced a small number of space suits in all kinds of colors. Later on, they also made space suits with what they referred to as “protest trouser legs.” The legs were covered in prints in the form of the national flags of Vietnam, Greece, and Spain, to protest war and dictatorship in those countries. In addition to the certificate of authenticity, De Leeuw also made a silk-screened order card, complete with diagrams showing the modular system of the zippered garment.

Harm Stevens is Curator of 20th-century Art at the Rijksmuseum

Iris de Leeuw is demonstrating the space suit in the Luuks Lab in Meersen, September 1966.
Iris de Leeuw is demonstrating the space suit in the Luuks Lab in Meersen, September 1966.
Happening in the Luuks Lab in Meersen, September 1966 for the promotion of the Provo-counsil in Borgharen, November 1966.
Happening in the Luuks Lab in Meersen, September 1966 for the promotion of the Provo-counsil in Borgharen, November 1966.