{SPECIAL REPORT} Today we wanted to explore a new fashion mecca. Many of today’s biggest names in progressive fashion design come from Antwerp, Belgium. How did this come to be and can Tel Aviv follow suit? Our correspondents from Marilyn & Josephine Between Antwerp and Tel Aviv blog have given us an inside view of Antwerp fashion design history and future, from a local’s perspective.

It all started with the now famous and avant-garde group – The Antwerp 6, who attended Antwerp Fashion Academy in the 80’s. The Academy and its students still captivate fashion professionals and students all over the world.

The Antwerp 6

Where did all this success come from? “Since 1960 Antwerp Academy has offered a department in fashion. Back then it was very amateurish. During the 1980′s the Academy presented 6 designers (The Antwerp 6) with a distinct radical vision for fashion. They established Antwerp as a notable location for fashion design. The breakthrough occurred when the Antwerp 6 set out for the London fashion fair with their collections; they put this city on the fashion map ever since.” The Antwerp 6 (Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter van Beirendonck, Dirk van Saene and Marina Yee) all own their very distinct styles and trademarks. Note: Martin Margiela was also a student at the Antwerp Academy at the time of Antwerp 6. However, he did not join them at the London show and was therefore not part of the original group.

The ready to wear Spring 2013 collections by some of Antwerp’s former fashion students

The designs of Maison Martin Margiela from 1989

The Antwerp 6 have set an example for their successors at the Flemish academies, such as Raf Simons, Veronique Branquinho, Haider Ackermann, etc., and they set solid ground for fashion in Antwerp. “Individuality is the most important trademark for the Antwerp Academy. Designers that graduate from the here are known to create collections in which the wearer becomes part of the designer’s world,” Karen Van Godtsenhoven, curator at the Antwerp Fashion Museum, explains. The minimalism of Demeulemeester, the drama in Dries Van Noten, even the theatricality in Romain Brau: each designer has his own signature.

The Antwerp 6

Romain Brau, a designer and Academy graduate, agrees: “it’s true that individuality is an important factor that is being emphasized. My personal style is more dandy and opulent in a contemporary way. I love the 1920ies and I love luxurious materials. I never had the feeling that I had to restrain my own style while studying at the Academy. Au contraire, I feel that the Academy helped me develop my style even further! It’s when I saw the work of Angelo Figus and Cristopher Devos (half of the duo behind Peter Pilotto), both also Antwerp Academy alumni, that I felt less alone in my creative process.”

The designer Romain Brau

Romain Brau, fashion designer and owner of concept store RA in Paris, knows both fashion and Antwerp due to his studies at the Antwerp Fashion Academy (part of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts). “I chose to study at the Antwerp Academy, because it’s an Art School before everything else and I like the freedom that art holds. I wanted to feel at home and relax. I knew I would be happy in Antwerp. I am Parisian so when you have to choose between a city where you can get a flat of 200m for the price of a 10m in Paris you don’t think twice, especially when the international press tells you the Antwerp Academy is the best school in the world! When I started studying it all made sense to me. The Academy taught me to mix art and fashion. I just loved it!”

Collection by Romain Brau

How about the future? “It’s very striking that most students nowadays choose security by deciding to work for a designer. The current financial crisis is probably the main reason for this shift. That’s why we are working on new initiatives to offer fashion students the possibility to present their collections worldwide without having to spend a lot of money. We are working on a digital platform for example, through which we encourage students to film their collections, we also present the best collections in the Museum,” Karen continues.

Antwerp Street Style

And how about the influence of all this high fashion on Antwerp itself? Helen and Tine are 19-year-old twin sisters that have a blog about Antwerp street style. Their blog was nominated for the 2012 Blog Awards. Almost everyday they hit the streets of Antwerp, armed with a camera, to document the fashion this city oozes. “Antwerp fashion is very obstinate and careless. People in Antwerp have a very distinctive style and know very well what pieces to combine to get the best result. They play with details, like sneakers or colored lipsticks,” states Helen. Tine agrees: “In general, Antwerp street style contains a good mix of trends and own style. People in Antwerp are very realistic, they want to look good for their own pleasure and not to impress others. This sometimes leads to extravagant looks, especially with the students of the Fashion Academy.”

Antwerp Street Style

Antwerp fashion students are welcome features in the Antwerp Street style blog. “Their presence in Antwerp often serves as an example for others, like some sort of living trend-guide. People here are very proud of ‘their’ Academy. It determines the Antwerp identity and has turned a lot of us into chauvinistic fashionlovers.” On the question of which Antwerp designer is their favorite, both girls choose Dries Van Noten. “His new collection is so beautiful. Dries has developed his very own style throughout the years, but his collections are always innovative.”

So could Tel Aviv follow in the enviable footsteps of Antwerp? Anything is possible, the design schools here are starting to come into their own and the graduating students are presenting progressively more innovative designs. As long as support is given to the designers and development in the industry continues, we see great things in Tel Aviv’s fashion future.

The writers/contributors: Marilyn & Josephine Between Antwerp and Tel Aviv
Two girls, Marilyn & Josephine, Two cities, Tel Aviv & Antwerp, One blog


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