Photo by Ernest Ojeh

In 1986, a group of six young graduates from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp joined forces to form a fashion collective known as the Antwerp Six. The group, consisting of Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Marina Yee, brought a radical and unique perspective to the fashion scene. Their aesthetic was vastly different from what was being showcased on the catwalk, with the exception of Paris, where Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Issey Miyake were already paving the way for a new style - deconstruction.

The Antwerp Six followed in the footsteps of these Japanese designers by creating deconstructed, sculptural, and layered garments that were more artistic and edgy. They challenged traditional rules and redefined the perception of the body in fashion. By playing with volumes and shapes, they were more than just designers; they were artists.

Their first breakthrough came when they showcased their designs at the British Designer Show in London. Though they were placed in a small space away from established designers such as Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, their unconventional designs spoke for themselves. They resonated with values such as keeping production small and working outside of the glamor, marketing, and media. For the Antwerp Six, a fashion collection should be a strong visual communication channel on its own.

Following their initial success in London, the members of the Antwerp Six continued to work individually and started their own labels. Over time, they became synonymous with the European version of Japanese deconstruction. While Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester went on to achieve global success, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Marina Yee continue to work on their labels on a smaller scale concerning sustainable production.

Walter Van Beirendonck, not only runs his eponymous label but also serves as the head of the Fashion Department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, where he mentors the next generation of designers. His avant-garde designs and commitment to pushing boundaries have made him a respected figure in the fashion world.

The Antwerp Six continue to be celebrated for their innovative and influential work, and the Antwerp fashion scene remains an important hub of creativity and experimentation in the fashion world.

Antwerp Port House by Zaha Hadid Architects, Antwerp, Belgium
Photo by Claudia Lorusso

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