Antwerp owes its reputation to the pioneers of the new Belgian fashion movement: the dubbed “Antwerp Six,” consisting of Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee. These designers were and are synonymous with radical, fearless fashion gestures.
The group, who all graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts between 1980 and 1981, presented an early, avant-garde vision of deconstructed, moody minimalism against the norm of ’80s excess – a vision that solidified Antwerp’s place in the fashion pantheon.
The Antwerp Six movement has inspired generations of talent, including Raf Simons, Haider Ackermann and A.F.Vandevorst. Hence, many continue to wonder what it is about Antwerp. In truth, the answer remains an enigma.
The high point of their local fashion season is Antwerp Academy’s annual student show, which attracts more than 6,000 international visitors. The highly selective school draws worldwide talent to take root in Antwerp, and when their studies are over, many choose to stay put – while a lot more pursue becoming global stars, presenting in London, New York, Paris and Milan.
The Royal Academy, however, is not the only institution giving birth to rising talent. Below, BlackBook profiles some of the most promising newcomers, some of them from the esteemed Academy, and others from neighboring Belgian institutions.
Fall 2016 (via Vogue)
Brussels-born designer Christian Wijnants is one of Paris Fashion Week’s most promising new designers. Having won the coveted Woolmark Prize, his knits appropriately show a high degree of sophistication and construction. Wijnants also revels in oversized silhouettes, bold graphics and deconstructed layering, his designs reaching that perfect balance of elegance and coolness. In an interview with Elle China, he said “I think it’s cute if girls have more of a boyish, stronger character—but are not too showy.”
It’s no surprise fellow native Dries Van Noten named Wijnants’ Royal Academy graduate collection the “Best Collection” in 2000. Following the launch of his label in 2003, Wijnants has since sold his collections to more than 100 boutiques worldwide, including Barneys New York. But perhaps the proudest moment was in September of 2015, when Wijnants opened his first flagship store in Antwerp.
Fall 2015 (via Jean-Paul Lespagnard)
Jean-Paul Lespagnard is an artist of many talents and a self-made marvel, having studied visual arts in Liege before continuing his education in Luxembourg. He began his career as a stylist and costume designer, and now approaches design like creating multimedia works of art, incorporating everything from photography to 3-D objects into his clothing. Armed with a fun, functional and free aesthetic, it’s no wonder his shows attract such a wide range of fans.
Spring 2014 (via Fucking Young)
Cedric Jacquemyn graduated from the Royal Academy in 2010, his menswear clearly reflecting the poetic undertones and avant-garde construction of the original Antwerp Six. In an interview for Nero Homme, he said, “To me creating a collection always starts from a concern, an emotion.” Jacquemyn is very conscious of his fashion, focusing on quality production within his atelier or with Belgian-based production companies. He once said that “shops becoming more like galleries is the future of fashion.”
Devon Halfnight Leflufy
Fall 2016 (via Devon Halfnight Leflufy)
Vancouver-born designer Devon Halfnight Leflufy moved to Antwerp to attain his BFA and MFA at the Royal Academy. He’s heavily influenced by his teenage love of West Coast street style and hip-hop, and his work has already made astonishing breakthroughs: he was one of 26 designers nominated for the second edition of the LVMH Prize, while his collections have already been picked up by major retailers, like Opening Ceremony. Nevertheless, Leflufy prefers to stay in Antwerp, where he feels he is “free to work and explore freely.”
Fall 2016 (via Facebook)
Another talented import from the Royal Academy, South Korean designer Minju Kim has exploded onto the fashion scene ever since she won the coveted H&M Design Award at Stockholm Fashion Week 2013. Her designs often incorporate rounded shapes and pastel-colors, giving her a work a bubbly poetic tone that draws inspiration from Manga. Her manifesto goes “the essence of MINJUKIM is simply to make the person who wears the clothes to be joyful and to introduce a new world to the brave girl with the imaginative mind.”