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preface by Jean paul gaultier

The first time I ever visited Antwerp was for the Canette d’or, the Golden Spindle contest in 1983. I knew of the Antwerp Academy’s reputation because Linda Loppa, who had her own shop and was a customer of mine, headed the Fashion Department of the Academy at the time. When I arrived in the city, I discovered the importance of fashion and architecture — the Art Nouveau, the many beautiful stores, and the sense of fashion. So fab! I was shocked. It was something I truly didn’t expect. When I saw the student show I was so impressed with the quality, the professionalism. Each student could have had their own show in Paris — for me, that’s a big compliment. We went to see the Golden Spindle collection installations, and I was amazed that the designers did not only give attention to the clothes — each collection told an interesting story —, but also to merchandising, the presentation. I realized that everything was in balance. everything was complete! I myself hadn’t gone to school; I didn’t know that you could even learn all that! So, to the Fashion Department of the Academy on its 50th birthday, I say Joyeux Anniversaire! All the designers I know have succeeded to develop their own personal style, and they prove that creativity is the only path to follow — even in periods of crisis. Bravo to them!


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Entrance to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, early 1960s.

Top left: Mary Prijot with teachers Hieron Pessers and Marthe Van Leemput, 1975. Top right: The fashion design studio, 1975; Fashion and theatre costume design students with Mary Prijot and teachers Marthe Van Leemput and Hieron Pessers, 1975; Mary Prijot helps a student decorate the room for the Sint Lucas Banquet, 1966.

‘I studied at the Fashion Department thanks to Hieron Pessers. He taught draping and fabric modelling at the time. I saw how people were working in fashion design, while I was still studying graphic illustration. I found it fascinating. He was a painting student, because he wanted to be a painter, but for four hours a week, he worked as a visiting lecturer in the Fashion Department. He had worked for Givenchy, and with Galitzine in Rome. He had taught in London, at a school with a completely different mentality. For example, the director there sought contact with the fashion houses and ensured that her students got apprenticeships after their graduation shows. Hieron frequently talked to Mary Prijot about it: ‘Why not organize a high-level show and invite people from Yves Saint Laurent?’ Hieron pushed to incorporate the new perspectives here. Inspired by his experience in London, he also told Prijot, “You cannot organize a fashion show on the refectory tables. The press has to be invited; there have to be professional models.…” Together with the future Six, who were very ambitious, he instigated a turning point in the Fashion Department.’

— bob verhelst


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Top left: Fourth year collection by Rita Van Raemdonck, in the Academy’s garden, 1973. Top right: Third year collection by Chris Proost, in the Academy’s garden, 1973. Below right: Mary Prijot in conversation with the Antwerp antiquarian Axel Vervoordt during the 1976 fashion show, held in Vervoordt’s building on the Vlaaikensgang in Antwerp.


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Students and teachers from the Department of Fashion and Theatre Costume Design on a school trip to London, 1966. Mary Prijot is on the far right.

Students recalled that there was little interaction with the other disciplines and that it took a long time before the Fashion Department began to receive any recognition from the students and the faculty of the more traditional art disciplines.

Mods, Hippies and Swinging Antwerp The fashion-conscious, often well-heeled students who followed the fashion programme under Mary Prijot in the 1960s and 1970s tended to stand out amongst the bohemians and hippies populating the painting and sculpture departments at the Academy. Jo Wyckmans, a member of one of the Fashion Department’s first graduating classes, recalls, ‘There was really a gap between the fashion students and the other students, the artists. We had no contact with them. When I was a student, it was the time of Panamarenko and the Provos, with their long hair. Those of us in fashion walked around as exactly the opposite: super-bourgeois, wearing expensive shirts. My clothes were English in style; my suits were bespoke.’22 The 1960s saw the rise of concurrent but contradictory images of fashion. Classic fashion, inspired by haute couture, now had competition from fashion that had evolved from the street up. Young people, especially teenagers, inspired international innovations in fashion and cultural life. In London, this ‘Youthquake’ was further stimulated by Mary Quant, who introduced the miniskirt. New icons such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton became a prominent presence in the international media. London in particular was a tremendous attraction, with Carnaby Street and King’s Road as shopping Meccas for both mods and hippies. The fact that London had become an important fashion centre had certainly not escaped Antwerp. The Fashion Department, together with the Commercial Art and Advertising Faculty, organized a number to field trips to London in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1966 trip was led by Mary Prijot, Marthe Van Leemput and Piet

Serneels. In addition to the requisite points of interest — the Parliament Buildings, Windsor and Hampton Court — they visited the Fashion Department of London’s Royal College of Arts and the costume studios of the Royal Opera House. The rest of the programme included visits to museums and the city’s most important shopping streets.23 Cultural excursions of this kind were not exceptional: students also travelled to Brussels to attend performances choreographed by Maurice Béjart and visited museums in Paris and London. Prijot found it crucial that students kept their eyes and ears open, stimulating creativity. She encouraged her students from the perspective of her own cultural background and training in art.24 In Antwerp itself, the Swinging Sixties also left their mark. As a driving force for international trade, Antwerp was directly connected to two of the most important cities in the international hippie movement: London and Amsterdam. The influence that these cities had on the drowsy provincial capital was considerable. The hippies and the Provos found their way to the City on the Schelde, where they had a major effect on contemporary art. In 1966, Anny De Decker and Bernd Lohaus founded the Wide White Space, and artists such as Hugo Heyrman and Panamarenko, an Antwerp Academy graduate, strove to bring about cultural change and progressive policies on culture. In Flanders, the international student revolt, heralded by the Leuven Vlaams January Revolt in 1968, generated a vehement artists’ protest that was concentrated in Antwerp, centred around the A 37 90 89-group and the Vrije Actiegroep Antwerpen (vaga, Antwerp Free Action Group).25 A lively art and fashion scene arose in Hendrik Conscience Square, with, among others, the eccentric designs, boutique and performances by Ann Salens, whose colourful crocheted garments won her international fame. The small shop, Akke Boe, owned by Akke Haarsma, from the Netherlands, would also attract countless young people, as an expression of the spirit and the fashion of the 1960s and 1970s. Initially, not many of these new street-generated fashions were noticed at the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Academy of Art. Under the influence of Mary Prijot, the programme was primarily focused on Paris chic. Prijot had a profound aversion to the unkempt hair and looks of the hippie students: ‘In these last few years, fashion has gone mad. Surrounded by these rapidly changing trends, it takes a great deal of effort to keep a cool head in order to preserve a wearable, elegant and practical fashion. The beginnings of that were something that we tried to pass on to our students.’26 Prijot wanted to design apparel for a femme-femme, an elegant, extremely feminine woman: a lady. She preferred to see her female students with their hair cut short or gathered in a bun, with skirts that hung preferably below the knee. Nonetheless, Prijot was not ill-disposed to international developments in the field of fashion. She was full of admiration for the emergence of ready-to-wear fashion in the 1970s: ‘On the other hand, I do find it positive that


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Top left: Fourth year collection by Koji Araij, 2006. Top right: Third year collection by Yusuke Okabe, 2001. Below left: Fourth year collection by Kanya Miki, 2002. Below right: Fourth year collection by Hideki Seo, 2005.


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by SUZY MENKES, ‘New York times’ fashion journalist There is a particular shade of blue — the colour of a rain-washed sky — and a rust that is a little duller than Italian terracotta, which are both associated with Antwerp fashion, and you might see them in a fur scarf or a wool coat in a catwalk show by Dries Van Noten. Both colours are not only traced through the many different collections in the respectable and modest Belgian style that came into prominence with the Antwerp Six in the 1980’s: they are also the colours found in the work of Pieter Breughel the Elder, such as the burnt orange of the servers’ jackets with a single splash of blue in The Peasant Wedding, 1567. With a history that goes back to the Middle Ages, it is hard to separate Antwerp designers from the physical presence of their city. In the clothes of today, you still seem to find the textures of wood and stone that appear on buildings with Gothic spires — those thin spikes reaching up to a sky more often leaden with low clouds than lit up with an expanse of blue. Like Cristóbal Balenciaga, the designer who was so closely associated with Spain that you could feel the influence of his birth country in the architecture of his couture collections, Belgian designers seem engulfed in a sense of place. As Ann Demeulemeester puts it, ‘It is difficult to generalise but we have such different tastes. It is difficult for us who come from the north. It is completely different from the south. We are not Italian or Spanish. It is another way of life. They are always in the sun. I could never make something like Versace does. My taste is completely the opposite. It is something far away from my world.’ Not all Antwerp designers work only in the simple, solid shades of stone walls and dark sky. There are also the vivid colours from Walter Van Beirendonck or the quirky designs of Bernhard Willhelm. Yet, there is a cultural fashion collective that seems to follow a certain vision: attention to detail, construction and realism that runs throughout the different styles presented by Belgian

designers. And that is as true for the history of fine arts, as it is for fashion. French art critic Eugene Fromentin, writing in the nineteenth century, was intoxicated by the difference between French and Italian artists, compared to the work he found in museums in Brussels or Antwerp. In his book, The Masters of Past Times, first published in 1876 and translated into English in 1948, Fromentin examines Dutch and Flemish paintings from Van Eyck to Rembrandt. After studying the work, the writer claimed that there was no significant difference between the Dutch and Flemish schools, but that the changes were evident if ‘the painter had tested the troubled waters of the Arno and Tiber.’ ‘Did he visit Italy or not? That is everything,’ Mr Fromentin wrote. The book was written in the period of the Grand Tour, when the ability of natives of the lowlands to look at cultural influences beyond that area would have been a major step — a decision to travel to a particular, distant destination. The mystery of modern Antwerp designers is this: now that there are instant travel connections and a 21stcentury period of multi-culture, how is it possible that Belgian designers remain so relatively uninfluenced by any other fashion aesthetic such as that of the French, Italian or even Japanese? Despite being situated in the centre of Europe, they still have a very singular vision. Japanese designers who came to prominence during the 1980s presented a striking and intriguing contrast to the Antwerp designers. A ‘Tokyo Six’ did not exist — nor did the idea that emerging designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo of ‘Comme des Garcons’ or Yohji Yamamoto might be viewed as an entity. To this day, Japanese designers stress their uniqueness and reject the idea that they have a group identity. By contrast, Antwerp designers were not only grouped together, but even seemed to enjoy this ‘cousinhood’.


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Group photograph of the Antwerp Six. From left to right: Marina Yee, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs and Dirk Van Saene, 1986. 42

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Hanne De Wyngaert in collaboration with Haider Ackermann for the +1 magazine created by the class of 2006.


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dirk van saene Spring/Summer 2008 Trompe l’oeil cotton skirt 48

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DIRK BIKKEMBERGS Autumn/Winter 2002–2003 Leather patchwork biker jacket 50

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WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK Spring/Summer 2014 Oversized jacket with woven interior patterns 54

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Clockwise from top left: Today’s Place, a squat in the Wolstraat in Antwerp, ca. 1979. The symbol of anarchy at the entrance to Today’s Place. Artist Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven in an Antwerp exhibition space, ca. 1980. Marleen Van Ende, DJ at the Clowns Club and Radio Centraal and founder of the band, Zhe Barbies. Walter Van Beirendonck in one of his own creations, Today’s Place, ca. 1979. Drawing by Narcisse Tordoir, Today’s Place, ca. 1979. Ronald Stoops, Rudolf Verbesselt, Jan Janssen and Narcisse Tordoir in their ‘direct actions’, in which they wore business suits and begged at the offices of banks in Antwerp, 1979.


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Clockwise from top left: Valérie, a Paris punker, working in a house on Antwerpse Zuid, ca. 1979. Retro Rockabillies, ca. 1980, Antwerp. Eddy and Anja in a New Romantic outfit, ca. 1978, Antwerp. Bruna Hautman, Narcisse Tordoir’s girlfriend.

‘Walter brought art with him into the Academy, because he was good friends with Narcisse Tordoir. Narcisse’s girlfriend, Bruna Hautman, was the most extreme, she was the most heavily made-up. She had eyebrows that were coloured pitch black and continued behind her ears. Her eyes looked like two black holes and she always had black lips. We thought she was a very stylish lady.’ — dries van noten


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An Vandevorst, 1991. 128

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Martin Margiela, 1979. 132

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Fashion Antwerp Academy 50  

Fashion Antwerp Academy 50 is a collection of work from The Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp; undoubtedly one...