Photo of Walter Van Beirendonck. Courtesy of Walter.
On May 9, 2010 Famous Belgian fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck showed his collection at the Berkeley Art Museum. This was his first American show in his 27 year career in design. The event was a big deal in the fashion industry and Berkeley was honored to be hosting him for the evening.
Walter Van Beirendonck was born in 1957 in Brecht. He started taking drawing lessons in high school before entering the Royal Academy of Antwerp's fashion department in 1977. While attending, he met some other talented classmates who would collaborate and support each other in design, Dirk Van Saene, Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee and Dirk Bikkemsbergs. They become known as the "Antwerp Six."
This is a group of avant garde fashion designers who graduated from the academy between 1980 and 1981. Antwerp was their base of where they designed and lived. Their fashion collective presents a distinct radical vision for fashion. In 1983 they each launched their own collection. Together, they staged fashion shows and events through the mid-80's. Their attempts to capture the attention of international press and buyers famously included their success at the 1988 London Fashion Week, where they rented out a truck, set out to London and showed their respective collections. This was the event that established Antwerp as a notable location for fashion design. Despite their shared background at the academy, their styles are distinctly varied. Van Beirendonck uses bold graphics and daring designs that are rooted in a futuristic concept of fashion that is both theatrical and challenging, while Van Noten uses scarves of exotic fabrics, beaded saris and dyed skirts that are inspired by traditional practices in India, Morocco and Egypt. To date, they have chosen largely to remain in their hometown.
Image courtesy of Walter Van Beirendonck.
Walter's collections are inspired by visual arts, literature, nature and ethnic influences. His unusual color combinations and strong graphic influence are characteristics for his collections. In 1993, he was approached by the Mustang group who was working on a project called "Jam, Jean and Music", with the aim of associating their products to the music industry. He made an agreement with them and became the artistic director of "W" until 1998. In that same year, he opened up "Walter", a shop that sells and promotes new Belgium designers and artists in Antwerp. Antwerp Six has impacted the fashion scene by drawing international reporters, magazine editors and photographers who visit their collections and look forward to the latest designers graduating from the Royal Academy.
Some notable accomplishments of Walter Van Beirendonck include being awarded the honorary title of "Cultural Ambassador of Flanders" in 1999, curating the "Fashion 2001 Landed-Geland" project in Antwerp in 2001, launching N°A magazine, artistic director of Scapa Sports, in addition to showcasing cutting-edge fashion collections.