This is my first three and half-hour long fashion show, but it feels quicker than many of the commercial 20 minute shows in Milan. The graduation show of the Antwerp Academy fourth year students and smaller catwalk collections from all the years' students is running every night for three nights to a packed audience of over 800 people. It's like a fashion circus, with each designer or act followed by another in quick succession. The talent level is high but it would have been hard for early students like Dries Van Noten and Anne Demulemeester to imagine it growing so big when they pioneered this small college course years ago.
Now there is even a project called Skirt which tests the skills of the 50 or so first year students against strict design limitations. There are, however, no limits for this year's crop of fourth year graduates. An unusually large group of 16 made it through to the final year, which has seen the likes of Raf Simons pass through its doors. Tim Blanks, Kris Van Assche, Ali Mahdavi and I (among others) formed the outside jury, joining Walter Van Beirendonck and the course tutors for a day of presentations where each student talked the group through their final year collection.
"I graduated exactly ten years ago," said Belgian-born Kris Van Asshe, who is now Artistic Director of Dior Homme. "Everyone thought my work wasn't extravagant enough - I remember Suzy Menkes was one of the jury members that year so the pressure was double for the students - but I think they thought I was too classic." Not surprising really when you consider Bernard Wilhelm was also graduating the same year.
A very elegant menswear presentation titled 'Le Jetee'. It had a strong point of view, being in essence a formal or eveningwear collection without a traditional tux in sight. He had great jackets and coats with beautiful decorative pop-ups, plastic mouldings which looked like metallic outcrops, constellations exploding out of a black universe. The finale was an all-gold robo-biker jacket, which was a great show piece.
A wonderful take on children's clothing that blew away all the visiting jury. Her exquisite hand crocheting and use of fine wools such as angora made a soft and beautifully composed collection for 6 to 12 year olds. The show was a real hit, with the children really enjoying wearing these eye-catching and very well-thought-out pieces. As Kris said in the summary, "I could see some of them being easily reworked for men." Watch out Dior Homme fans.
A formal men's collection with beautiful twists and turns. By adding pockets that are supposed to be used for hunting and collecting paraphernalia, Fukumoto turned them into decorative but still functional elements. The "boy catcher" (as Tim Blanks referred to him due to his presentation which showed a model with a butterfly net over his head) had created a very inventive briefcase, also made of butterfly netting. A cute touch to a well-balanced and elegant collection.
Samuel Drira, the Creative Director of Encens Magazine, thought it was a copy of Christopher Kane, but I liked the simple sexiness, the mix of colours and the mix of embroidery with jewelry. The Belgium school is high and concept and low on sex appeal, so it's nice when a designer in the final year turns that on its head. Bravo Laurence for being an unexpected chic maverick.
Simon Pierre Toussant
The magically titled 'The Trees Can Hear You if You Talk To Them" presentation captured the imagination of all the jury. Boy scouts lay on camp beds with simple but very elegant underwear which Simon had made in partnership with Belgian brand Eskimo. The reference to Thom Browne's film with xxx did not go unnoticed, but Simon's precise mix of sportwear with a chic, refined edge was true to his own vision.
The only designer who produced a minimal collection. Austere, beautifully crafted graphic shapes, cut from gauze and muslin, revealed layers of transparency, shades of white with light blue, then were reworked differently in shades of black and grey. Flat fronted, art deco influenced hard lines revealed sexy outtakes in the rear or side of the paneling. Like a wink from a nurse, or a librarian, they caught you off guard with their sensual hidden sexuality.
Pretty, daring, sensual, elegant and fun. He got the party started after the show with a high octane, high-energy final collection.
Thank you to all the students for showing me their work. The overall level of creative thinking and technical ability was astoundingly high.
I would also like to recommend the work of the third year students Elise Gettliffe, Lars Paschke, Tomohiro Tokito and Julia Kim, and also Angelo Van Mol from the second year.
Another higlight in Antwerp was meeting Kaat Debo the Artistic Director of the Mode Museum, who took me on a tour of the Veronique Branquino show. Another former graduate of the Academy, Veronique was celebrating her tenth year as an independent designer. The show has some really fun installations including a replica room from Twin Peaks and also a Porsche covered in tweed! In September comes the first museum show dedicated to Maison Martin Margiela, another famous graduate from Antwerp. This is going to be a landmark show - a good excuse to plan a trip to this city where fashion, architecture and art really do merge into one.