A member of the influential "Antwerp Six," now head of fashion of their alma mater the Royal Academy Antwerp, designer Walter Van Beirendonck has long been a driving force for change in the fashion industry. He continues to show collections that are graphically strong, conceptually challenging and technically innovative.
As part of the Antwerp Six, Van Beirendonck established the city of Antwerp and its academy as fashion centres in the 1980s. He told Dazed Digital, “The world has changed, fashion has changed and the city has changed. The Academy was totally unknown then, so even when you said, 'I'm studying in Antwerp,' nobody knew about the department. The exposure that the Antwerp Six and Martin Margiela gave to the fashion department attracted a whole new generation of students, who came from all over the world. And I think that the evolution in the city — now you can call it a fashion city — has a lot to do with what happened in the school. It's all connected, to what happened around 1985.”
The designer continued: “It was a very dynamic moment and I think that there was a lot of ambition to really make it. To get out of Antwerp and to get out of Belgium. We went through a very long process, school for four years and then four or five years of making collections in Belgium, so we were preparing ourselves for almost ten years. I think then we had the opportunity to create a very distinctive, recognisable signature. Everybody had the time to evolve in their own personal way.”
Van Beirendonck has nurtured many top talents in today's fashion establishment, including Raf Simons and Kris van Assche.
In 2018, a student suicide at the Antwerp Academy called into question teaching methods at the school, with many current and former students coming forward with accounts of depression and drug abuse. In a detailed statement responding to the allegations, Johan Pas, head of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, said: “As you know, the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp is highly esteemed and is counted among the most highly ranked institutes of its kind.”