The Antwerp Six, a group of six avant-garde and highly influential designers who graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 80’s, have played a major role in redefining fashion. The group of visionaries were taught by Linda Loppa. Each one of them presented a unique and radically different vision for fashion at the time. Not only have they set up a strong foundation for the growth of the fashion industry in Antwerp, but they have influenced designers like Raf Simons, Veronique Brandquinho, and Katt Tilley. Their vision is strong, whether you look at them individually or collectively, and they are still creating rippling waves across the industry.
Designer Ann Demeulemeester is credited for introducing a new aesthetic to fashion, one that is experimental yet wearable, arty yet sophisticated. Demeulemeester is known for combining contrasting fabrics in dark palettes and bravely ripping, slashing, and tearing them apart. The oversized masculine look that she constantly recreates is inspired by her longtime muse Patti Smith, who has created powerful spoken word poetry for several of the designer’s runway shows, and gave the designer ideas for prints. Demeulemeester’s designs always fused fashion in art, in both explicit and implicit ways, and they are just as bold now as they were in the 80’s.
Flemish fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck made his fashion breakthrough in 1987 during the British Designer Show in London. The designer, as well as designing for his own namesake label, designs for Scapa Sports, Zulupapuwa, and JBC. As if that isn’t enough, Van Beirendonck also designs costumes for theater, ballet, and film and lends his artistic vision to curating expositions, objects, books amongst other products. For inspiration, Van Beirendonck constantly turns to art, music, literature, as well as ethnic influences. In 1999, the designer was awarded the honorary title of “Cultural Ambassador of Flanders”. In 2001, he was the curator for the exhibition Mode 2001 Landed-Geland in Antwerp.His trademark characteristics include unexpected color combinations, bold graphics, and cuts that are extremely innovative. Van Beirendonck is not one to shy away from the public, often presenting collections that tie to current events and issues. His clothes boldly make a statement about nature, the fashion industry, and the state of society. Amidst the somewhat muted shows during men’s collections, Van Beirendonck is always setting a trend, and pushing the boundaries.
After Dirk Van Seane graduated from the Academy in Antwerp, he went on to open his own store, called Beauties and Heroes. His name vibrated through the fashion industry when he went to London to showcase his designs along his fellow Antwerp designers. Not one to follow trends, the designer became known for his imaginative designs that trick and surprise the audience. Like his peers, his designs are always original in a non-conformative way. One day he would present couture-like pieces, and deconstructed garments the next. In 1983 he won the ‘Gouden Spoel’ price in Belgium. The designer, although highly influential, has always maintained a small-company with its own cult following. “Ceramics” is the designer’s first public art exhibition, although his hardcore fans will be familiar with his paintings from his days as an artist, and features wood, glass, and of course, ceramics. He harmoniously fused the two worlds together when he printed his paintings on his garments.
As soon as Dries Van Noten graduated from the Antwerp Academy, he began freelancing for a few years, until he established his own label. His breakthrough came in 1986 when he presented his menswear collection in London. The designer became hugely successful, opening stores in Paris, Milan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, amongst other places. What Van Noten does so well is mixing Western and Eastern folk influences. His love for fabric always comes across, and he’s even known for designing his garments by hand. In 2008, the designer won the award of International Designer from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Celebrated as “one of fashion’s most cerebral designers”, the designer continues to gain more momentum season after season, and has recently had a retrospective on his career as a designer in Paris in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
Designer Dirk Bikkemberg originally wanted to become a lawyer, only because he found them “chic”, but thankfully for us he ended up in the fashion world. Even before heading to London with his Antwerp crew, the designer won the Canette d’Or’ award for Best Young Designer in Fashion, which funded his equally succesful men’s shoe collection. His designs are often inspired by his youth. Think military-influenced basics in tough fabrics. His womenswear designs don’t stray too far from his menswear creations. He became even more sought after once he created his youthful Bikkemberg Sports line. I guess you could call Bikkemberg a restless designer, as he never remains in one fashion capital for too long, and the passionate workaholic has once said, “I am married to fashion and will remain faithful.”
Marina Yee, who worked closely with fellow Antwerp designer Dirk Bikkembergs, is known for designs that revolve around spirituality. Like her peers, she has a skill in deconstructing clothes beautifully, and does so with old clothes brought from feel markets. Her garments have an underlying theme in them which is the demanding consumer attitude in fashion. The designer bid the fashion world farewell in 1990 but made a strong comeback in 1998. Yee goes beyond fashion and designs beautiful fabrics for Aristide.
Although he graduated a year earlier, this list would be incomplete without Maison Martin Margiela, the master of deconstruction. Even though Margiela remained faceless, the brand reached cult status, and its presence is just as strong today. Characteristics like the white lab coat, numbers from 0-23, and creating unconventional garments made out of other clothes became signature Margiela (remember the glove coat?). The name exploded when the designer joined forces with H&M on a sell-out collection, was name dropped several times in rapper songs, and especially when Kanye West began sporting his jewel-incrusted masks on stage . Funny how one of the strongest and most iconic brands in fashion was build on the notion of anti-branding. Margiela has left the fashion house for a while now, stating that he wishes to fulfill “a desire to enjoy his life outside the insistent glare of the fashion world”, and has since experimented with art. John Galliano, who recently unveiled his first Artisanal couture collection, is the latest designer to take over creative direction of the fashion house.