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Dreaming: An Interview with Walter Van Beirendonck
December 10, 2017
Dream the world awake. Keep on going, keep on believing, keep on dreaming, it is only you that will make it happen, you and your creative mind. – Walter Van Beirendonck
Ahead of our sixteenth issue launch – The Dream Issue, we revisit our interview with one of the Antwerp Six: Walter Van Beirendonck, which was printed in Candid Magazine’s fifteenth issue – The Luxury Issue. An excerpt is below.
Luxury can take you to places; it can lift you up from the world you inhabit and take you to a new reality. When Walter Van Beirendonck left Brecht and headed for Antwerp to the Royal Arts Academy, he may have had dreams, but could he have ever known just how successful he would be and how the gift of creativity he was afforded there would offer him the opportunity to become one of the most recognised fashion designers in the world?
Walter and the Antwerp Six (Walter, Dirk Van Saene, Dries van Norton, Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee and Dirk Bikkembergs) would change the history of Belgian fashion forever and inspire generations to follow in their footsteps. Thousands would end up starting their own journeys to become designers, fired up by the renowned collective.
Is the luxury of creativity that you are in a position to fully explore your vision as a designer and artist without regard to the bounds of commercial balance?
Yes, this is completely right. It became a luxury to have the possibility to be creative. As an independent designer it is a big task to stay creative and to survive at the same time, it is a constant challenge to keep both in balance..
Has studying at a fine art university helped you to have a perspective that steps away from just making clothes and into being able to use that more artistic approach to explore concepts for your collections?
I always felt I was an artist who decided to express himself through fashion. Every project I’m working on, I approach as a storyteller. It can be a commercial children’s collection such as Zulupapuwa, an opera [such] as Aknaten, an Ikea-project [such] as WonderMooi or my own collections.
I always start with an idea, concept and/or a story to give my artistic mind the possibility to be creative – exploring new fields, doing new research and pushing my own boundaries.
Having graduated from the Royal Academy Of Arts in Antwerp in 1980 do you think the confidence of youth or the experience of age is a greater asset for a designer?
Youth and maturity are both very important for creative people and of course they both come at other moments in a career.
Graduating in Antwerp together with Martin [Margiela] and the Six was an amazing moment of synergy. Working out of Belgium, a country without any fashion history was very frustrating, but our common energy and ambition got us out of Belgium, first to London and then to Paris. Naivety and the power of youth helped us a lot to let this happen.
Maturity comes with the years and I can notice it in my way of working and in the result of my collections, I’m able to come more quickly to a better result because of all the knowledge that [I have] built up over the years, but I also realise that I’m more difficult and demanding regarding the result and quality of an idea.
One of the criticisms sometimes levelled at the growing menswear industry is that it isn’t experimental enough and that too many designers are tied to classical tailoring. As someone recognised the world over for progressive tailoring, how do you feel about the current state of men’s collections?
Here there is a lot going on I think, there is a lot going on in men’s collections. I think that there is a rather free way of thinking and that there are a lot of possibilities due to the gender issue that has become very popular over the last few years.
I never felt I was purely a menswear designer and my clothes are also worn by women so I feel that my work is very unisex, but I’ve always chosen to show my collections during men’s fashion week and mostly on men as I’ve found it more challenging to design for men than for women.
There are more boundaries and codes to take in consideration while designing, and that I like!
You’ve worked across a huge array of design areas, stadium music tours, the arts, children’s clothes and sportswear to name a few, what drives you to keep on exploring new avenues?
I love to work on new collaborations, it introduces me to new fields, it gives me new experiences and it opens my eyes.
I just finished a series of T-shirts for Rei Kawakubo named W:A.R – Walter: About Rights, all starting from the idea what we should be free in our minds and that nobody should limit our creativity of expression.
What advice would you give to young menswear designers starting out today?
Dream the world awake. Keep on going, keep on believing, keep on dreaming, it is only you that will make it happen, you and your creative mind.
Freedom to create is an amazing thing, would you call it a need or a luxury?
For me it is a need to express myself through my work and my projects, but it also became a luxury due to the changing economics and evolutions in the fashion world.
Photography of the autumn/winter 2017/18 ZWART collection by Ronald Stoops.
Read Ross Pollard’s interview with Roger Frampton here.
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