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Walter Van Beirendonck: Dream The World Awake

The forever-avant-garde Belgian designer speaks to us about his incoming large-scale retrospective and collaborations with Nick Knight

Walter Van Beirendonck's work has forever explored concepts of beauty and sexuality while incorporating the issues that we face in an everyday reality. Still, behind it all, dreaming plays a lead role and in Dream the World Awake, the large scale retrospective of Van Beirendonck's work, we are invited onto that stage. It is a modern look at the thoughts behind over three decades of ideas, silhouettes and projects and includes collaboration with Nick Knight and Simon Foxton created especially for this exhibition. Dazed caught up with Van Beirendonck to discuss isolation, clothes and the importance of dreams...

Dazed Digital: Are you a nostalgic person?
Walter Van Beirendonck
: Normally, I don't do this. There were many, many memories looking through the boxes, looking at your life. I kept everything somewhere and this was an opportunity to look at it all. You never have time to take these nostalgic trips.

DD: What is the mood of this exhibition?
Walter Van Beirendonck: A very important part of it is my way of working. I wanted to show clothes and silhouettes but also illustrate how I'm thinking and putting ideas together. It's the kind of thing I've been doing with scrapbooks for a long time. It's very contemporary, very white, very natural and feels spontaneous. I'm a bit overwhelmed when I see all of the silhouettes. It feels like one collection, like one big idea. In the exhibition, there is what we call 'The Wonder Wall', where I'm presenting huge images, words, slogans and objects from artists I like, from museums, my toy collection.

DD: It's about much more than the clothes...
Walter Van Beirendonck: Yes, I give the audience the opportunity to get into the complexity and layers of the work. It isn't an explanation but if you see it this way, you get it.

DD: You studied in Antwerp, feeling away from the fashion world. Did that force you to find a different kind of creativity?
Walter Van Beirendonck:
 In the beginning we were isolated. The six of us, we were out of contact with the outside world. If you were graduating and looking for jobs, no one knew the Antwerp school. Now, the school has become so international that the isolation of it is good. It's a good isolation. You're away, central and still close. Designers in Antwerp easily concentrate on their work. It's a luxury that you can have easily here.

DD: Tell me about the tensions in the menswear, this pull between the masculine and feminine.
Walter Van Beirendonck: I like to work with it and see how far I can go, approaching women’s items but still keeping a very masculine feeling. There are corsets and high heels. I want to experiment with these boundaries. The exhibition is about tensions in different subjects, the body, words, and images. The choice of man, the way it's presented, is about different kinds of masculinity.

DD: And courage?
Walter Van Beirendonck: Yes, that too, as it's important for it to work in real life.

DD: What is behind the photography and video project for which you collaborated with Nick Knight and Simon Foxton?
Walter Van Beirendonck: Nick and I knew each other but we had never worked together. He was intrigued to work with the archives and we thought about asking Simon Foxton to style it. I've liked his work since the 80s but I don't usually work with stylists. He collected hundreds of pieces and recreated the looks for a shoot. In the end, it will be a video but also a picture that is 24 metres long with 100 models. It's very powerful.

DD: How important is dreaming?
Walter Van Beirendonck: Dream the World Awake was a slogan, to say it's important to dream but you have to be awake and be concerned and aware of reality. I like the duality of one side dreaming and the other a reality. I use dreaming in an extreme way, but it also makes a real statement.

Walter Van Beirendonck's 'Dream The World Awake' is at Antwerp's Mode Museum (Nationalestraat 28,  2000 Antwerp) September 14 - February 19, 2012