Three decades ago, six enterprising designers – Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk Van Saene, Dries Van Noten and Walter Van Beirendonck – put Antwerp and their alma mater, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, on the fashion map. So as the Master class of 2016 showcased another six designers, it was towards the future of fashion, not its past, that all eyes were turned.
On June 10 and 11, within the brick walls of former industrial estate Park Spoor Noord, the students of the RAFA, now headed by alumnus extraordinaire Van Beirendonck, showcased their best works. Although the fourth year's graduating students were the highlight of the event, the progression of each year highlighted what exactly makes this school one of fashion's most prolific source of talent.
Van Beirendonck has affirmed time and again that he focuses on creativity and creativity alone to get his students in a place where they will be able to find tap and explore their talents. And witnessing their questioning of the human silhouette as first year students, the radicality of pure experiment shone bright. Voided of the minutiae of fabric, design stood alone. In second year, historical costume requires precision in the recreation of seminal outfits. There is little room for interpretation when the references are so precise, down to a date or a particular image. Likewise the ethnic third year work builds on this with larger than life fantasy shines through from the incongruity of seeing these ceremonial or festival garments come to life.
Why are the Belgian schools and this one in particular still producing lasting talent? Because students are taught tools to build careers in fashion, not just the singular tightrope exercise of creating an eponymous brand. Because business is considered as the supporting element of a great aesthetic. Because fashion students won't necessarily become eponymous fashion designers but may become fantastic creative powerhouses.
It is perhaps a telling sign of where the industry's focus lies today that the most notable collections of the year were the menswear ones. Emmanuel Antoine Ryngaert and Timo Z