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Ruth Ossai ib kamara rushemy botter antwerp graduate shell
Rushemy BotterPhotography Ruth Ossai

The grad protesting Shell with fisherman-inspired fashion

Under the tutelage of Walter Van Beirendonck at the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp, Rushemy Botter wants to increase awareness about ocean conservation

As one of the oldest institutions of its kind in Europe, the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp boasts an impressive list of alumni. From contemporary designers like Demna Gvasalia, Kris Van Assche and Haider Ackermann to stylist Olivier Rizzo and photographer Willy Vanderperre the list seems almost endless. That’s without even mentioning industry greats like the Antwerp Six, made up of Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene – with the latter two of the collective now tutors to the Masters’ students at the prestigious school.

The newest graduate who hopes to follow in the footsteps of his successful tutors is Rushemy Botter, who debuted his graduate collection at the academy’s fashion show at the beginning of last month. Under the tutelage of Van Beirendonck and Van Saene, Botter presented a collection that drew you in with its playful childishness – the blow-up sea animals worn on models’ heads and baseball caps stacked ten-high were a testament to that. The accompanying campaign images that he created with photographer Ruth Ossai and stylist Ib Kamara (a pair the designer describes as family) were equally fun, the backdrops made to look like a beach landscape or a waterfall on a tropical island.

In contrast to the brightly coloured images, the collection had a darker, more serious message underneath. Earrings that were almost like giant air fresheners for cars, looked like the Shell logo as if it were oil on water – except these read ‘HELL’ instead, recalling Dash Snow. To Botter the large corporation represents just that, and he is firmly against the damage he thinks it is inflicting on the ocean environment – specifically around the Caribbean island of Curaçao, where he is from. “The coral reef is damaged in such a way that it is affecting its growth, behaviour and development,” he explained to us.  

Not only Shell, Botter is calling out everyone worldwide to be more educated about their plastic consumption and the damaging effect it has on the ocean and its wildlife. “We don’t realise that one plastic bag you buy in the supermarket may end up in the ocean and can kill.” The tufts of plastic that appeared in the collection, sprouting from hats and wrapped around the arms of tailoring were plisséd in an effort to make them more beautiful and luxurious.

Elsewhere, the netting that appeared – sometimes around necks like scarves or up arms like sleeves – reminded the young designer of the fisherman from his island. The forward hanging silhouette that dominates the collection was inspired by their wet clothes hanging off their bodies as they emerge from the sea.

“People need to be more aware these days and not afraid to speak out” – Rushemy Botter

As well as the environment, heritage was also an important part of the collection. “Island people are beautiful and proud people,” he said. “I always remember when my grandma would leave the house and put on all her gold jewellery and her nicest clothes to let everybody know she is doing good.” That mentality is something he wanted to convey in the images. Or as he more aptly put it, “using garments as an emotional shield.” The models in the images stand tall and proud, and the group shot almost looks a family portrait, with everybody dressed in their Sunday best.

Above all, Botter wants the conversation about the environment to continue beyond the collection. “People need to be more aware these days and not afraid to speak out,” he urged. “We need to keep questioning and be critical” – a lesson that is not too different from what he has learnt over his time studying in Antwerp. “Only when you find yourself on unknown ground you will push yourself to find new solutions and new inspiration,” he says. As for what you can take away from his collection – conservation can be chic. 

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