ANTWERP, Belgium — When a student first comes to university, where they will end up professionally is completely unpredictable, so it’s difficult to know exactly what to teach them. Therefore, schools should try to give students a wide impression of everything that could eventually come their way.
At the fashion department of the Royal Academy, students are really pushed to discover their own identity and their own signature. We combine that with introducing them to reality — we organise workshops and put them in contact with people from businesses, from brands and from head-hunters. But they definitely don’t get a ‘business’ approach. That, we don’t do.
We concentrate on creativity. There are other schools that are much better-organised to teach business, but this is the direction our school took from the beginning. In fashion, creativity is a really important thing that you can learn and improve in school. Students’ own identity and signature is the most important thing to us.
When they graduate, students should have a voice. They should have a strong character and ambition if they are going to make it one way or another in fashion. They’re going to learn business, step by step, by training or working in companies — but if they’re not trained in a highly creative way, they cannot realistically go to a designer and be their assistant.
I think that by choosing creativity, we are a rather special place in the world. Students choose to come here to work that way — they don’t come to Antwerp to do business training. If they want a business degree, they go to Paris or to New York to do a specialised business course. When they come to Antwerp, they come to be raised like designers, capable of the highest creativity and reaching the highest level.
I’m sure that in all the fashion houses, most people come from creative schools. That’s where most of our students end up — at the house of Balenciaga, the house of Dior. But they get there mainly because of their creativity; not for their business acumen.
Don’t you see how fashion at the moment is dominated by marketing, and that all the collections are starting to look the same? It has a lot to do with this kind of “business” mentality, which is far too dominant in fashion. We must do everything we can to prioritise creativity in fashion education — it is the thing that keeps the industry going.
As told to Helena Pike.
Walter Van Beirendonck is the head of the fashion department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp.