To Kiss or not to Kiss: A new souvenir for a multicultural country

To kiss or not to kiss is a project that reinterprets the “Dutch Kissing Couple” in its Delft Blue version into 10 new souvenir kissing couples from different cultural backgrounds. The “Delfts Blauw Kussend Paartje” is one of the most iconic images used in the souvenir market in the Netherlands.  According to the 2014 population report from the CBS, around 3.600.000 immigrants (1st and 2nd generation) live in the Netherlands. This is 21% of the total Dutch population, who are mainly living in the cities, which also host most visitors (Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam). Like in other European cities this cultural diversity adds a lot of value to the city landscapes, but is not always reflected in them. This project explores how this value could be communicated through a souvenir product. Also it connects the desire of the traveler to both take something away from the environment and to leave something positive behind: supporting the local craft and design production.  The selection of the nationality of each couple will be created based on research about different immigration groups and the impact they’ve had in the Dutch culture. So not only the more recent immigrants are represented but different groups that left different traces in Dutch history and culture, to name but a few: China, Germany, Indonesia, Turkey, Surinam. Advice from experts in Social and Immigration history in the Netherlands and co-creation sessions with immigrants will contribute to the design of each kissing couple.

This project unfolds as a part of the Delft Blue historical process to represent parts of Dutch lifestyle, in this case 2016. As a ‘tourist’ and immigrant myself I learned that Delft Blue products have been an important part of the Netherlands’ social history from its origins to the twenty-first century. Delft Blue originated from a Chinese product which presence in Dutch households denoted a certain socio-cultural status. In 1620 the supply of Chinese porcelain was interrupted due to the death of the Chinese emperor. The demand for it stayed the same so Dutch ceramic workshops began to imitate the Chinese painting style and in the process also created their own version with European patterns and pottery techniques. Many of the objects produced until now range from simple daily objects and touristic souvenirs to art and design niche oriented products. They portray different aspects of Dutch lifestyle such as sea and landscapes, folkloric wisdom, music, sentiments of patriotism, religion and also about royalty and war. Blue Delftware is a traditional craft product recognized as Dutch but with Chinese origins. This project follows Delft Blue’s multicultural influences by integrating the prints and features found in the traditional clothing of the cultures that are represented by the 10 new Kissing Couples.

While traveling, I always try to find a special souvenir that communicates the local identity of the place I’m visiting. These objects can have a folkloric background or have been the result of designers exploring the boundaries between their origin (local identities) and the contemporary. Next to this, as a traveler, I feel the obligation to leave a positive footprint during my visit so I focus in finding products that offer that opportunity. It is a challenge to find something that is special, that has been locally produced at a fair price and that is easy to transport. The French word Souvenir refers to objects that remind us of people, places and events that revive the past, but the best definition I heard a few years ago was “to get back to myself”. I like this definition because it describes very well the function souvenirs have; they tell us stories that invade everyday life, stories that carry socio-cultural values of the place where we found them. Those kinds of souvenirs might be described as folkloric; I see them as a combination of the culture of arts & crafts, materials and society. This tradition is a subject of great significance and it has answered to this day to very demanding decorative and functional needs. As a designer I like to explore this design field to create technical, educational and sustainable production programs, which aim to preserve craft skills, natural resources and contribute to give meaning to the expression of craftsmanship.

The purpose of the Kissing Couples is to remind us about the cultural diversity in the city of Amsterdam in a direct and comprehensive way. To create an opportunity for citizens and tourists to find their cultures of origin reflected in what is an iconic Dutch image that is telling part of the city’s history. Kissing couples of different cultural background and gender may raise a discussion around inter-ethnic tolerance in the Netherlands, but this is not the project’s purpose. The intention is to showcase the city’s interculturality as a societal fact in the Netherlands and as a discussion that stays open. This project wants to contribute to the local craft industry and expression, to explore the boundaries between tradition and innovation in this sector and to an intercultural exchange of skills and knowledge.

You are invited to contribute to the project by sharing stories about the culture and folkloric traditions in your countries. A few interview sessions will be organized where the designs of the folkloric clothing for the kissing couples will be discussed. You can follow the progress of the project and participate with your input through social media:



Gabriela Bustamante/Design that Matters: Concept and Production


Jokaland Inspirations: Photography and Video Production

Lauria Communication + Design: Graphic Design and Branding

Textile Research Center Leiden: Advice on Garment, Textiles and Accessories

Montagne Aardenwerkfabriek: Delft Blue Production

Dr. Daniela Vicherat Mattar: Assistant Professor in Sociology in the Global Challenges Program of Leiden University College in The Hague.

Liesbeth Fit: Design advisor, writer, curator

Senko Kabbes: Industrial Designer

Christopher Ng: Expert and collector of Chinese and South East Asia Textiles and Garments