Dear Shaded Viewers,
Belgium may clearly not be the largest country within Europe, it nevertheless features an impressive range of creativity across the arts. Whether it be film, dance, music or fashion, the Belgian spirit is about resilience, hard work and a willingness to express oneself freely and without boundaries. There’s also a sense of humor at play, which hovers between the goofy and the surreal.
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp has been one of the key leaders making Belgium a country of innovation, flair and experimentation, while respecting the value of craft and traditions. The knowledge fashion students have of historical clothing there is extensive and, every year, they are asked to reinterpret them, as well as ethnic costumes.
This time, the 4th Year graduates were the strongest of the bunch and three collections stood out. On the womenswear front, Quinten Mestdagh showed creative garments that fused contradictory ideas with ease: the Middle Ages and Kate Moss, Couture shapes and rebellion, contemporary icons and ancient figures. If his framework was a classical one -as his clothes evidenced a longing for beauty and harmony- the realization of his pieces was anything but standard. He used hundreds of buttons to embroider a handsome suit, pixelated portraits as prints and threatening studs as luxurious embellishments. The Belgian graduate struck a fine line between creepy and attractive, as well as conceptual and sensual, which resonated with the crowd.
Another people pleaser was Austrian Maximilian Rittler whose collection named “Rock Me Amadeus” was a striking evocation of rock’n’roll, paired with the spirit of Punk and the flamboyance of Glam. Referencing stage costumes worn by David Bowie and the protest movement of French 1940s Zazou, Rittler gave his models strength and confidence with clothes that were theatrical, but also surprisingly wearable. The best graduate collections were in fact a compromise between stylistic effects and desirable pieces. You could envisage Rittler’s show as pure spectacle, but once the silhouettes were broken down, it was all exquisitely made and ready to be worn.
Menswear was also a focus for Nick Haemels, whose statement collection offered a reworking of Mondrian’s graphic and minimalistic paintings. Haemels was looking for crossovers between fashion and art -a conversation which hasn’t been alive since the late 1990s- and he referenced Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, too. His strong colors and bold associations were softened by pure and sleek lines, referencing work wear and classic menswear staples. Still, Haemels’ clothes had an optimism about them, which seems incredibly relevant within our dark times. It was great to see students like him imagine a bright and positive tomorrow.