A member of the influential "Antwerp Six," former head of fashion of their alma mater the Royal Academy Antwerp and his eponymous label, 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. Alongside Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten , Ann Demeulemeester , Marina Yee, Dirk Bikkembergs and Dirk Van Saene, the designer made a name for himself and the fellow designers for their unusual garments after graduating from the Royal Arts Academy in Antwerp. Establishing his eponymous brand in 1983, the designer became a tour fashion advisor for U2 and Erasure. In his over 35 year tenure, the designer became known for his daring, out-of-the-box collections, with notable stunts such as his Spring/Summer 1989 line accompanied with a comic.
Of the emerging Antwerp Six, Van Beirendonck told Dazed Digital: “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, as the head of the fashion department since 2007.
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.”
In June 2022, Walter van Beirendonck stepped down from Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. Fashion designer and performance artist Brandon Wen will take over from Walter van Beirendonck as the artistic coordinator of fashion training.