Last week, the Antwerp Fashion Department’s master students presented their graduate collections under the eyes of the Antwerp Six to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary.
It was a historical moment. As designer-clad crowds lined up at the Campari bar and smoked cigarettes on the waterfront, all members of the Antwerp Six–Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Walter Van Beirendonck–sat at the front row of the Antwerp Fashion Department’s graduation show. For the academy’s 50th year, they had been invited on the jury to assess the graduates’ collections.
“The focus of the program is creative freedom,” said Ann Demeulemeester, wearing her all-black rock ‘n’ roll uniform at the Academy’s garden brunch. “They push students to find their own voice.”
Demeulemeester, who lives in a Le Corbusier house away from the city center, had not returned to her alma mater since she’d been a student there 30 years ago. She recalled how she’d rebelled against the academy’s rigid education at the time, along with the tight-knit group now known as the Six.
“We came out of the middle of nowhere,” she said. “We had the freedom to start from zero, and we worked hard.”
The Six took inspiration from Paris (Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier) and Tokyo (Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons), and from the tumultuous revolts and music of the late ’70s to create radically new aesthetics that changed the course of fashion history. Their spirit clearly continues to inspire the Academy’s graduates, who train for four years under the critical guidance of director Walter Van Beirendonck, developing technical mastery, deep creativity and expert research skills, ultimately “pushing their boundaries and helping them shape a total vision,” as the director puts it.
Minju Kim, the winner of this year’s H&M Design award, created a saccharine fantasy collection in whites and pastels, reinterpreting classic tweeds and houndstooth prints with cutting-edge materials and balloon shapes. Mattia Van Severen, who took home three awards, printed concrete color blocks on contemporary menswear using the Victorian technique of flocking. The collection recalled the pure lines and vivid colors of modernism and of Antwerp’s iconic Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Raf Simons, and Kris Van Assche.
Pierre Renaux, who received an award from the MoMu fashion museum, infused his collection with a dark spirit–think razor-cut skirts and spectacular 3-D shoes with heels sculpted in sci-fi shapes. The pumps will be exhibited at the MoMu all summer.
And come September, the museum will stage the exhibition Happy Birthday Dear Academy, reuniting the work of the school’s most stellar graduates and displaying rarely seen pieces from the graduate collections of the Antwerp Six.
Click through to see standout looks from the student show.
Photos: Catwalkpictures/ Etienne Tordoir