The hyper-real storytelling of Walter Van Beirendonck

From Alien anarchists to perverse Sexclowns – we chart Van Beirendonck's top 10 fantasy-overload collections

Fashion Top Ten
W.&L.T. 'Believe' SS98
W.&L.T. 'Believe' SS98 Photography by Ronald Stoops, taken from Walter Van Beirendonck's 'Dream the World Awake', published by Lannoo Publishers in 2013

To celebrate the Outsiders issue of Dazed, we invite you into the subversive and hyper-real world of Walter Van Beirendonck. From an exclusive head to head interview with his former intern Craig Green, to never before seen archive images, this is our love letter to the visionary Belgian designer. Here we chart his ten most fantastical collections. 

'KILLER/ASTRAL TRAVEL/4 D-HI-D' SS96

Sci-fi knights descended from above in an ethereal manner, nu-rave robots emerged from the darkness and rubber headed figures crept forwards, their padded whoopee cushion shaped masks emblazoned with the phrases – ‘Terror Time’, ‘Get Off My Dick’, ‘Synthetic Hell’ and ‘Blow Job’ amongst others. Bearing the resemblance of disarmingly life-sized dolls, the figures were inspired by the performance art of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. Giving a dark and twisted undercurrent to Joanna Spyri’s seemingly innocent children’s novel Heidi, they explore childhood not as a source of innocence and purity, but as a period of repression and violence by setting the story against a backdrop of the HIV/Aids epidemic.

'PARADISE PLEASURE PRODUCTIONS' AW98

You have entered the sex zone, a rubber induced realm, where men clad head-to-toe in muscle tight latex peacock their way down the catwalk, boasting acid bright marabou headwear. Women are dressed in figure-form fetish-wear emblazoned with Bowie lightening bolts, with zips running from the back of the head right under the crotch, leaving the wandering imagination to run wild. Despite bondage style visuals, immortalised by Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s blow-up sex doll meets model images, and a theme of fetishism the latex is in fact representative of a second skin, promoting safe sex, AIDS awareness and Van Beirendonck’s fun, open approach to sex.

'HI SCI-FI' SS99

To the sound of a pulsating heartbeat extra terrestrials are re-born on planet earth, scanning the human world and race by way of built-in prostheses on their temples. Autumn leaves crunch beneath their bare feet for the first time and the never-before smelt scent of lavender and grass infiltrates their senses. Just as the alien is amazed by what we consider the mundane, Van Beirendonck re-imagines certain motifs and symbols in a radically different context. For this collection Van Beirendonck puts himself in the position of ‘the other’.

'WELCOME LITTLE STRANGER' SS97 

The supernatural ‘other’ has stomped out of his spaceship and strapped on a pair of roller skates before gliding down the streets clad in a futuristic boiler suit, heavy black helmet-style headwear in tow. Van Beirendonck’s predilection for science fiction, the future, the supernatural and spirituality shines through in a collection that progresses from sterile and invasive to bright, expressive and avant-garde perhaps symbolic of the ‘others’ interpretation of the human race. One of Van Beirendonck‘s re-occurring themes is present – looking at the world anew and inviting his audience to do the same.

'A FETISH FOR BEAUTY' SS98

A swarm of trance-like wind up dolls, line-dance in what can only be described as an eerily casual manner. With each toe-to-heel tap the motley crew of moustached models are drawn closer together before the atmosphere takes a turn to the dark side. Stephen Jones’ cowboy hats are replaced by Marylin Manson style make-up, adorned on figures head to toe in black who then part way for a tribe of green rubber gas-masked reptiles. Beauty is portrayed in alternate forms and nothing is quite what it seems.

'SEXCLOWN' SS08

Enter the phallocentric realm, show the world what god gave you and show it proud. Subverting the sexual status quo, phallic symbols are expressed externally on the head, around the neck and covering the face, for a collection with masculinity, body diversity and gender assumptions in a virtual world. Bright colourful designs drawn from traditional puppet theatre in Mali and Sogobo rituals act as the foundations for symbolic avant-garde representations of the most private male body parts, illustrating that in a virtual world such as second life, for example, people have the opportunity to re-imagine their appearance by way of an avatar, trying on an entirely new identity.

Walter Van Beirendonck 'Sexclown' SS08
Walter Van Beirendonck 'Sexclown' SS08, Dazed and Confused 2007 Photography by Matt Irwin, Styling by Nicola Formechetti, taken from Dazed and Confused 2007

'NO REFERENCES' AW99

The white horse, the green dinosaur and the red cartoon-like cat figure sit and watch the show in harmony from the very best seats in the house. Creating a disconcerting picture, Van Beirendonck decided to reserve the front row seats of his AW99 show for his most beloved toys and dolls. The disarming estrangement was in fact an expression of Van Beirendonck’s disillusionment following his departure from Mustang Jeans.

'WONDER' SS10

Wonder Bears must grow their fur. An army of bearded models, hairy human types of solid physique (not dissimilar to Van Beirendonck himself) took over the runway making a statement about the over-commercialisation of logos and the over-use of trademarks. The statement being: this is clothing for me, I am a bear. Whilst each bear paraded around in briefs emblazoned with a ‘W’ at the crotch, it could be said that Van Beirendonck got behind the crotch of his models and each customer to later purchase said pants. But being perverse was never the aim for Van Beirendonck, the red cotton y-fronts are merely another mischievous way of conveying a message.

'CROSSED CROCODILES GROWL' AW14

Men wearing teeth bearing leggings in a series of trippy colour ways stomp down the catwalk to the sound of Mooro – "For those about to Funk". Soldier bucket hats strapped under the chin infiltrate the space with an overarching sense of military control. Lace up crocodile trainers with eyes at the tongue imply that someone is watching you. This is one of Van Beirendonck’s most cleverly curated collections. Playing on the African notion that a crocodile is a symbol of both unity and diversity, Crossed Crocodiles Growl promotes a war against racism, employing a humanist, we're-all-in-this-together message at its heart.

'LUST NEVER SLEEPS' AW12

Alarming leather and latex fetish masked men dominate the clinical white space. Muzzle-adornments are juxtaposed with pastel knitwear and distorted figures are hung from chains, worn around the masked-men’s’ necks. Drawing on the subversive themes of sadomasochism and fetishism which can be traced back to Van Beirendonck’s long time inspiration found in Robert Mapplethorpe, Lust Never Sleeps is another collection which is reminiscent of both the past and the present.

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