A definitive on Belgian design, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp celebrated its 350th anniversary this weekend. As part of the celebrations, Antwerp, the insignificant city with a worldwide impression, hosts a series of exhibitions showcasing its most influential fashion icons.
The beginnings of Belgian fashion can be traced to the ‘Antwerp Six’, a collective of designers who graduated from the Academy in 1986. Such collectives come together in industrious design environments, notes MoMu Fashion Museum director, and curator of the Antwerp exhibitions, Kaat Debo: “They become friends, they party together, they study together, they go to concerts together, and at the same time they create together and they influence each other.”
From those you know, like Margiela and Simons, to the next generation and behind-the-scenes key figures, here are Dazed’s Top Ten Antwerp Visionaries.
A revolutionary from the off, Simons self-trained as a menswear designer under the eye of Linda Loppa, head of the fashion department, creating his first collection in 1995 entirely by himself. Now, as Creative Director of Dior, he has a house of les petite mains to assist him. A long way from his early teenage subculture references, Simons resides in the higher echelons – yet not without a touch of Belgian controversy. For AW13, his second Dior Couture collection, Simons reimagined a ‘global vision of couture’ far removed from the careful homages to Monsieur Dior of before.
PETER DE POTTER
Artist, writer, and curator Peter de Potter graduated from the Academy in 1992. Creating seminal works in printed tomes in his early career – including ‘The Fourth Sex’ in collaboration with Raf Simons – de Potter is now considered a pioneer of Tumblr creation. His solely online projects I Am An Image Machine and Angelic Starts embrace new approaches to art in the digital era, combining found and archive image to reimagine context and generate a new, thought-provoking dialogue.
MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA
Fashion's mystery man graduated from the Academy in 1979, working for ten years as a freelance designer, including for Jean-Paul Gaultier, before showing under his own name in 1989. In complete opposition to the exuberant, high-profile fashion of that era, Margiela's highly conceptual collections displayed the rebellious attitudes shared by earlier generations of Antwerp designers. The most extreme of his peers, Maison Martin Margiela continues to question the conventions of fashion and taste – even so far as to collaborate with H&M in 2012.
DEVON HALFNIGHT LEFLUFY
Originally from Vancouver, Devon Halfnight LeFlufy is part of a new era of young international designers honing their craft and aesthetic at the Academy. His graduate collection ‘True Believer’ reflected the manner of Antwerp generations past, combining an anarchic attitude with a respectful understanding of craftsmanship and design – yet with an internationally referenced, contemporary edge. The collection’s psychedelic mix of West Coast street wear codes and laser cut henna symbols make LeFlufy an Antwerp export to watch.
Though not a graduate of the academy, Grognard’s collaborations with the Antwerp Six, and old friend Martin Margiela, on shoots and projects before they had all even graduated means she is firmly considered one of the gang. In her most recent shoot with Dazed, ‘Young and Restless’ July 2013, Grognard bruised models’ eyes with shadow, imbuing an up-all-night feel to the Saint Laurent Cali-grunge collection. A regular face at the Antwerp Fashion Department, Grognard advises current students on their collections. As she said in a recent interview with Dazed, “You really can inspire people; not to be scared, to do what they have in mind, what they really feel, what they have to do.”
Husband and life-long collaborator of Inge Grognard, Stoops studied photography at the Academy. He has photographed almost every major Belgian designer associated with the illustrious Antwerp fashion department, including Margiela and Raf Simons, with Grognard always credited under make up. Upon release of their book Inge Grognard // Ronald Stoops two years ago, the extent of the couple’s collaborative archive in both fashion and boundary-pushing art was revealed.
DRIES VAN NOTEN
Modest in attitude but bold in style, season after season Dries Van Noten enchants the fashion world with his prints – combining preppy stripes with brocade florals for AW13. Born and raised in the Flemish capital, his first store “Het Modepaleis” - the Fashion Palace - stands majestically in the centre of town. As sole financer and owner of the Dries Van Noten, the label maintains a mystery as intriguing, yet a whole lot more modest, as Margiela – another hallmark of Belgian design values.
WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK
A member of the Antwerp Six, along with Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, Van Beirendonck is synonymous with larger-than-life and surreal creations. For his SS14 menswear collection, the designer distorted masculine elegance with garish prints and embellishment, sharp 2D planes protruding from shirts, and shoes adorned with cerise penises. As current head of the Academy fashion department, Beirendonck continues to exert his influence, raising future generations of dauntless designers.
The most recent Antwerp student in our list, Kündig graduated in 2012, and was awarded the most ‘remarkable collection.’ Draped in seizure-inducing prints from the GIF generation, the male models of her final show were rendered face-less and gender-less as scarves enveloped their heads, and flowing skirts distorted notions of masculinity. Her cut-and-paste print designs of fat cats, molecular diagrams and kaleidoscope florals push the art/fashion boundary in a way not seen from Antwerp before.
German born Bernhard Willhelm joined the influx of non-Belgian aspiring designers to study at the Academy after the success of the Antwerp Six, graduating in 1998. Elevating standard references to the realms of bizarre, Willhelm collections feature clashing colour, eye-popping prints, and over-sized proportions. Yet, core values of design craftsmanship and innovative cut are never undermined.
Follow Natasha Slee on Twitter here @tashalouises