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FEATURE

Bewhiskered Belgian fashion visionary, Walter Van Beirendonck, bristles over superficial trends and greedy designers, muses overs colour and ethnic inspiration and exposes his new underpants. Tim Warrington reports.

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Colourful and cuddly – exuberant, Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck.

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While not always practical, Van Beirendonck’s work is never dull.

DNA: The models you use are very diverse. In one collection it was all black guys, in another you used quite androgynous models and in another beary, bearded men. While we come in all shapes and sizes, designers often design for one body type. Why don’t you?

Walter Van Beirendonck: Since my first collection, back in the ‘80s, I’ve been designing for different body types. Later in my huge Wild And Lethal Trash shows in the ‘90s I cast hundreds of models, all with very specific bodies and looks. For me the diversity feels right; it reflects our world much better than a stereotypically standard model. Also, it better captures the freedom and adventure of my collections. In the more recent fashion shows, casting a certain type of man helps to highlight the ideas behind my collection. Obviously colour and texture play a big part in your design, where do you get your inspiration? I do love colour, print and texture. I’ve been a big fan of colour since I was very young. Even during the darkest fashion trends I put colour in my collections and on the catwalk. My prints and use of colour are easily recognisable and very personal. My greatest inspiration comes from ethnic tribes. I’m fascinated by rituals and decorations from indigenous tribes. My favourite tribes are from Papua New Guinea. I love the way they experiment with their bodies. I never make an exact copy. I get my inspiration and then this is translated into a contemporary Walter idea. If you had been commissioned to design Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, what would you have designed? I would never have been asked to do a job like that; the more serious fashion world is afraid of me! But if I was asked, as with any job I’m commissioned to do, I would approach it with passion and complete it the best way possible. I think it’s important to fulfill the needs of the client while still maintaining my own vision. >>

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FEATURE

Beirendonck’s designs often include printed messages and statements.

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Walter’s designs are often infused with elements of sex and sexuality.

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>> Jean cocteau once said, “Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.” Do you agree? No. You have to see fashion in the current climate I agree on that, but I don’t think that it becomes “ugly” with time. It probably feels strange to see ‘70s glam rock artists today, mainly because the world and our perception is changing so quickly. In my recent exhibition called Dream The World Awake, I brought together more than 100 looks from 1983 onwards – it all fitted together and it all felt really fresh. Who is your favourite designer? Comme Des Garcon’s, Rei Kawakubo. have you been influenced by the work of leigh bowery? I liked him a lot. Seeing him in London was always a great joy and very fascinating. I do like to experiment with body shapes and that was something he did too. You’re not just a fashion designer, can you tell us a little bit about the other projects you’re involved in? Last year I was very involved with art projects. The most recent one was a collaboration with Erwin Wurm. We did a series of walking sculptures, which I showed in my last Summer Fashion Show 2012. Are you in a relationship? I met my friend, Dirk Van Saene, in 1978 at fashion school in Antwerp. He is the love of my life. We have been together ever since. being so high profile and famous, does it affect your personal life? No, I don’t believe so. However, it is a struggle every day to be an independent designer, to do what I want, without having to compromise. Working in fashion is a very demanding profession with a heavy workload and a lot of stress. But it’s a job I still enjoy a lot, even after all these years (more than 30)! You once wore a shirt that said, “sick of easy fashion”. What is easy fashion (and does that line come from Stand And Deliver by Adam And the Ants)? Right! I got it from the lyrics of Stand And Deliver. I liked it a lot, but I used it in a critical way. I was making a statement about the unstoppable, fast fashion production from the big copycat companies. >>

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“even during the darkest fashion trends I put colour in my collections and on the catwalk.”

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FEATURE

Performance sculptures by Erwin Wurm and Walter.

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Walter’s W-underwear on a picnic of bears, available at undz.org

quickly the fashion world forgets and how shortsighted the fashion press can be. Do you have a muse (male and female)? Not really. I do like certain types more than others, but I don’t have a muse. What is it about fashion design that attracts so many gay men? It makes people dream and gay-men are more sensitive to this (I think). How different would the fashion world lookw if there were more women designing? One of the strongest designers is a female designer called Rei Kawakubo, but it is true that in general female designers have a softer approach towards women’s clothing. If you released a fragrance for men, what would you call it? I’m not telling you that in this interview! It’s a dream to work on a fragrance and I hope one day it will come true. What have you got planned for the future? Well, I’m very excited about my new line of underwear, W-underwear. I showcased it during my Wonder-collection on a group of bear models. It’s an exclusive project called UNDZ by Walter Van Beirendonck. It will be available from June through online underwear giant undz.org. H

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>> Do you think the colours of the Australian outback could inspire a Van Beirendonck collection? Of course. Many things inspire me. If everything goes well, I’ll be bringing my exhibition, Dream The World Awake, to Melbourne next year. Do you see your fashion as utilitarian or a piece of iconography? Every piece I make is related to a human body and can be worn, but I do like to give clothes, or parts of the collection an iconic value. It gives them an extra emotional quality, which my fans and clients love. What has been the most rewarding highlight of your career so far? It’s difficult to say. I’m proud of all my collections and I’ve enjoyed the projects I’ve worked on (U2, exhibition curator, teaching, children’s wear collection ZulupaPUWA, and my art projects). What I’m most proud of is the fact that I’ve maintained my integrity through my whole career. Of course, one highlight was the opening of my exhibition Dream The World Awake and publishing my book of the same name. What annoys or upsets you about fashion? The superficial approach, combined with the greedy attitude and the copycat mentality that a lot of companies and designers think is acceptable. Also, how

Dream The World Awake (ISBN 9789020961126) is available at Ariel Books in Sydney, arielbooks. com.au and Metropolis Bookshop in Melbourne, metropolisbookshop.com.au.

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Walter van beirendonck