Antwerp nowadays is one of fashion centres, but it wasn’t always like this. Supremacy of Belgian designers, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, started in the ’80s. It was thanks to the rise of Martin Margiela and the notorious six of Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Bikkembergs, named together as Antwerp 6.
The rise of Antwerp 6
During the time when Paris was thrilled with deconstructed, avant garde garments of Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp produced designers who revolutionised fashion in the 80’s. The breakdown occurred in 1986 when those 6 designers rented a truck and headed to London, to showcase their collections at the British Designer Show.
Before their breakthrough Geert Bruloot took them with him to Japan and realised their big potential. He was also one of the first retailers to sell clothes of the six. While Bruloot initially thought of taking only Dirk, Walter and Dries to London, he changed his mind and decided to bring his fellow group back together.
Back then London in terms of fashion was mostly associated with Savile Row tailors, a rising star John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood in her New Romantic era. As those designers occupied the first floor, Antwerp 6 realised that no one would go on the second floor, where their designs were showcased.
To change that, on the second day, they decided to hand out flyers to buyers and visitors of the show. As their aesthetic was drastically different to what was shown on the runways worldwide, it was just a matter of grabbing attention to conquer the hearts of fashion critics. Although each member had their own, unique style they had one thing in common – rejecting norms of the back then fashion world.
Due to the fact that British journalists couldn’t pronounce their names, they dubbed them as Antwerp 6. After their collective work some members tried to present their collections together in Paris, but in the end they decided to split and work individually. Let’s now take a look at each member of the Antwerp 6 and evaluate their design characteristics
Antwerp 6- story and members – who was in the pack
Colour palette of Ann Demeulemeester consists mainly of black tones with shades of brown and grey. Thanks to that, innovative shapes and fit of the clothing can play a main role in her designs, it is experimental but still easily wearable. By exceptional layering, focus on pattern and high quality material her brand earned lots of enthusiasts.
She debuted at Paris Fashion Week in 1992, presenting a collection highly inspired by goth and punk style, completely contrary to sexy, commercial collections crowding runways at the time. In 2013, the designer left her eponymous label and has since created her own porcelain dinner set line from her home in Antwerp. Since 2015 her label’s designer is French designer Sébastien Meunier.
Dries Van Noten
Looking at the occupation of his family members who were tailors, we can say that Dries Van Noten has fashion in his blood. Dries Van Noten designs showcase understated elegance, attention to details and understanding of the importance of tailoring.
All of this combined resulted in worldwide recognition of his brand without the need for advertisement. He is famous for mixing Eastern and Western styles, and his use of folkloric fabrics. Apart from that Dries Van Noten often says in interviews that he draws inspiration from nature and art.
He took first steps into the fashion world by designing footwear which is up to this day one of the stronger sides of the brand. Dirk Bikkembergs is considered as one of the pioneers of so-called sports-luxury. When it was unthinkable to combine the world of fashion and sport he did it without hesitation, even testing his designs on football players.
As Dirk Bikkembergs says he is not looking at the past, but into the future while designing his collections. In result his clothes are strong and defined, often made with heavyweight fabric. Apart from that Dirk Bikkembergs is the first designer to present his collection on FC Barcelona stadium.
When it comes to philosophy of her designs, Marina Yee is a member whom I associate the most. Yee was one of the earliest pioneers who championed eco-friendly fashion. Her designs featured deconstructed elements from garments found on flea market. While producing her collections she wanted to give a new life to already existing garments.
Although she is often forgotten by many as a member of Antwerp 6, Marina Yee’s impact on fashion goes beyond her own collection. Supposedly she inspired Martin Margiela style and considering growth in sustainable fashion today, we can say that she was ahead of her times. Interestingly in 2018 Yee designed a small collection exclusively sold in Japan.
Walter Van Beirendonck
The oldest member of Antwerp 6. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1980 alongside Martin Margiela and started designing his collections in 1983. Aside from being a designer he also taught in the same university from which he graduated.
One of his most successful proteges is Raf Simons, whom he personally taught. When it comes to designs of Walter Van Beirendonck, he likes to use unusual colour pairings and bold statements. His work is associated with colour, geometry, use of lots of prints and patterns.
Dirk Van Saene
In 1983 Dirk Van Saene opened his first shop, Beauties and Heroes, selling his designs. His affection for art scopes out of fashion, including painting and other handmade craft. Speaking about his style characteristic, Dirk Van Saene often incorporated huge graphics or misspelling of his name in different ways.
Back bow dress is considered as one of his greatest designs and was very avant garde for it’s time. As painting was his favourite form of self expression, Dirk van Saene decided to mainly print his painting onto clothing, as it will speak for itself.