June 15, 2024

Fashion Design

Fashion Designs that Enlighten the Soul.

Five fresh designers to watch from Antwerp’s legendary fashion school

7 min read

Here is the latest crop of names rising from the university that birthed Martin Margiela, Demna, and Ann Demeulemeester

It wasn’t so much a fashion show as it was a festival – flanked by beer tents and food trucks selling loaded fries – with one thousand guests piling into a disused warehouse on the Port of Antwerp. It was also a test of human endurance – a four-hour assault of heat, strobe lighting, and everchanging soundtracks – as students from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts debuted their vibration-raising graduate collections. That there should be so much commotion for a college showcase is testament to Antwerp’s unique relationship with the arts, and the unrivalled legacies of Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Kris Van Assche, and Glenn Martens: all of whom were schooled at the Royal Academy before transforming the face of fashion. 

Walter Van Beirondonck – another famed alumna – held the position of creative director and course leader for 15 years until Brandon Wen took over in September. As a recent graduate himself, Wen looks more like a student than a traditional professor of fashion, and when we meet in Antwerp’s gothic town hall, he is dressed in a handmade corset with blonde extensions, metal hoops, and all kinds of found objects knotted into the fringe of his mullet. “I can’t even begin to describe with words how emotional I am,” he said on the evening of the showcase. “I love these people, I love their work.” Among the hundreds of students that presented – from Leo Emanueli’s Kardashian-Jenner printed columns to Amar Singh’s disturbed clowns – were 15 MA students who brought the spectacle to a rousing climax. There, exoskeletal bodybuilders, oil-slicked spectres, and tortured widows emerged from Belgium’s new wave.

Below, we run through five of Antwerp’s hottest new names – from Frederik Liederley and Marcel Sommer to Cezary Zalit, JuYoung Ahn, and Aaron Hüttenmeister. 

“I studied Manga in Korea and was considering working at Cosplay World for a while. But my plan was totally rerouted when I watched a Walter Van Beirendonck fashion show. It was then that I decided to study in Europe. My collection was about the fantasy around male athletes, their garments, and their equipment. American football players, wrestlers, and a few pieces of art by Alex Foxton, Maxwell Mustardo, and Robert Morris. I tried to combine all of that to create new aesthetics of masculinity.

It’s not fetishistic, though, and it doesn’t propose a specific sexuality, the characters I have created could have any sexual preferences. I’m cynical and tend to think the things I like aren’t special. But in my third year, Beirendonck taught me to respect myself for what I like. That was the most worthwhile moment during my time in Antwerp. I’d really like to launch a label one day but I still need real, industry experience, so I’m applying for internships in Paris, Milan, or New York.”

My interest in fashion formed early but slowly. I grew up in a conservative country where ‘presenting well’ is a big idea, so I have always been told what I can and can’t wear – no black clothing, no too-wide or too-skinny pants, no intrusive patterns, and forget about accessorising. Those rules made me eager to try and break the norm, and then in high school, I realised I needed to direct my studies into an area that valued self-expression. 

The inspiration for my collection comes from the word ‘Sonder’, which describes the realisation that other people on the street have as vivid lives and real lives as you do. I focused on the split-second memory we keep in our minds after everyday interactions, blending colours and tones, stretching and flattening the silhouettes, and bringing the background into the foreground. The silhouettes come from perceiving the garment from one angle, having that be a ‘dump’ for all the memory data where details are lost and collaged. The prints and textures come from everyday things, like distressed t-shirt prints, carpets, curtains, paintings, small trinkets and charms. 

I’m afraid that my ideas are too abstract, originating from philosophical concepts that might not be understandable to an outside viewer. I studied fashion in Poland but in Antwerp, the teachers wanted to listen and help bring out the best ideas, helping me to feel validated. For now, I want to take a bit of time off from thinking about starting a brand from scratch. I don’t want to rush ‘passion’ projects and would rather take some adequate time to research and get as many internships as possible.”

“My interest in fashion came from an interest in my surroundings. I like how applied fashion is. There is a set idea of what garments are and you can play with that idea, twist and tweak and develop it further. My collection was initially inspired by perfume bottles – I like the strictness and elegance of the proportions and materials and when applying that to the body it became an exercise in cut, creating a system of 2D flatness based on the geometry of the bottles. I think having purely object-based research allowed me to create pieces that are non-referential, with their own language.

 

That’s what my intention was, to discover a language that stands for itself. If you take the concept too literally you might get it wrong. It’s about the beauty of the body in communication with clothing. Antwerp was challenging, which inspires extreme growth. I like the focus on individuality and personal expression at the academy, no experience will be the same. You have to shape your own path and learn how to have conviction and stand behind your ideas. I want to keep making and developing all aspects of designing and creating that I like. I want to keep learning and challenging myself.”

“I first got into fashion when my grandmother taught me how to stitch when I was a kid. From that point onwards, I started to make my own garments when I wanted to dress up because designer clothes were so out of reach. I was already fascinated by the complexity some designer pieces could heave, so I really wanted to challenge myself in my own projects. I still have this drive to create items with a certain level of technique, I like to challenge spectators through process and construction. My MA collection was heavily inspired by Brutalism, which has always been fascinating for its feelings of power and intimidation. It is probably this violence of silence that fills me with emotion. James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson, and Tadao Ando were the starting points for me. It’s not really about telling a story, it’s more a personal feeling that I sketch and try to translate into the world.

I’m really going to miss Antwerp, I had the best teachers I could have wished for. It’s such a gift to study in a school with such a creative drive, surrounded by highly-talented students. The only thing I thought would be different was that the school can’t provide you with a well-equipped atelier with proper machines. So you really need an apartment with space to work in and your own equipment to do so! My next steps are undecided, I’ve got some requests which could be interesting but I want to reflect on these last few months to really understand where I want to go. I would like to see the insides of the industry and work for brands where the level of craftsmanship fits my expectations.” 

I was briefly studying architecture but quickly drifted towards fashion. I’ve always had a love for fashion and dress, but I had never considered it a career path until I reached out to Carol Christian Poell for an internship. I’d stumbled upon his work before and it completely changed my mind on what the life of a fashion designer could look like – I was attracted to the idea of not being part of the whole fashion thing, while still being able to create clothes and other wearable objects. With my final collection, I attempted a somewhat literal ‘return to form’ so it was all about shape, cut, construction, silhouette, movement, and rhythm. There was an attempt at attaining purity, stripping something down to its essence, and my mood board was almost entirely comprised of work by sculptors like Brâncuși, Arp, and Minne, as well as the architect Claude Parent. 

I initially also approached my work by draping the cloth directly on a model (with no sketch or preconceived idea) as if to work in a free, improvised type way. These seances and little rituals, of playing music really loud and sculpting with the fabric, led to the creation of most of my work. Just draping, sculpting, trying to bring out shapes and volumes that would strike me on an instinctual level. The collection was almost exclusively black and I think people often try to box me in with the ‘darker’ and ‘edgier’ side of fashion, but it was intended to be blank and ‘colour-less’, omitting superfluous prints and colour.

Since getting accepted here, I more or less conceded this would be an investment in my future, and have therefore focused almost entirely on the school work, often at the cost of social relations and hobbies, which basically have been non-existent. I typically work 15-hour days without any real weekends or holidays, so I’ve sort of had my personal life on hold for the past four years. I’ve hardly made friends around and been somewhat hermetically sealed off, just doing my thing. I would love to start something of my own but I would need some financial stability in order for that to make sense. So getting a job in which I can save up some money over time would be ideal – preferably in an atelier where I could still work on draping, experimental patterns, and constructions. I believe my tree is bountiful with plenty of fruits to harvest.”


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