2016 has been like a tornado as far as changes go in the fashion industry, everything from see-now-buy-now, rearranging creative directors, catastrophical fashion shows and the obvious discussion surrounding Vetements has sparked global debate.
One of the biggest changes so far is the amount of new brands emerging on the market, giving iconic fashion houses a run for the retail buck. More and more brands seems to be changing the current system by looking at clothes in a new and a more artistic way, by challenging existing form and purpose and creating it into something new and exciting.
Antwerp is a city that has been neglected in many ways, it’s not considered to be a part of the major fashion week calendar like Paris, New York or Milan and while the city holds one of the worlds finest academies for art and fashion, the city remains relatively unknown to the fashion conscious population. Names like Margiela, Raf Simons and Kris Van Assche are familiar names to most of us, these designers are true pioneers in their field, but the current changes, silhouettes and tendencies in fashion as we know it, can be traced back to the ones that came before them, also known as Antwerp Six.
“I think that Antwerp six is the right example of what is good and original”, says Giovanni Forbice of Darkdron.
It’s not necessarily about pea-cocking and flamboyance these days, young brands like Vetements, OFF-WHITE, Alyx, Y-Project, Fear of God and Cottweiler are sold next to iconic fashion houses at a medium-high price point focusing on reworking familiar shapes and forms into a new piece of a clothing while still being highly sought after. “ My primary focus is on creating a new facet, or slant on how a fashion narrative can be told, not forced or overbearing but through trusting my gut, and making decisions that feel right, even up to the last minute — and, thats in regards to presentations, the structuring or collections, fabric sourcing and whats is expected of designers, I’d like to bring back the feeling of reverence that once existed around the time of the Six”, says Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall.
The Antwerp Six was an avant-garde collective consisting of Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee. The group of designers all graduated Antwerp’s Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s and got their name during their first trade show in London when no one knew how to pronounce their individual names. The designers were all taught by Linda Loppa, who’s now the dean at Polimoda. “ I think the recent changes is interesting but superficial, it’s based on images of virtual people and the focus has shifted away from the abilities that lie with the creative generation. I think this is also one of the reasons why it’s sometimes difficult to understand what’s good and what’s not good in fashion”, says Forbice.
They say that history repeats itself, and the current radical approach to ready-to-wear draws strong similar bonds to Antwerp and especially Antwerp six. The Japanese experimented with deconstructing way before the six talented students from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts received their diplomas. The evolution of radical avant-garde design and deconstruction in European fashion lies with The Antwerp Six. Similarities can be seen in Margiela’s appliqué, Ann Demeulemeester’s street-goth, Dries Van Noten’s approach to colour and abstract tailoring, Dirk Van Saene’s 3D prints and extreme proportions, Dirk Bikkemberg’s athletic take to ready-to-wear and Walter van Beirendonck’s extreme approach to colour, pop art and masculine deconstruction. “Dries has been an influence that has come about from research, learning, dabbling in tailoring — finding ways to merge such a traditional trade with personal influences, wether that be through cut or fabric. His first collection mixed yachting references with tailoring, whereas my collections so far industrial textures with tailoring”, says Ross.
This group of young designers were radical, innovative and had a do-it-yourself approach to wholesale, designing and production when they started working together. Which in perspective is quite similar to how new brands are working today, wether it’s through Instagram, big cartel stores or hand-printing garments. “I see the characteristics we all have in common, the ones defining the land space. For me honestly I don’t even know that depths of the Antwerp Six story more than their existence. But their existence re-affirms that designer renaissances have pre-cursors”, says Virgil Abloh of OFF-WHITE.
I don’t even know that depths of the Antwerp Six story more than their existence. But their existence re-affirms that designer renaissances have pre-cursors” – Virgil Abloh
Every season a new brand pops up and manages to capture our eyes, the lenses of street style photographers which ultimately lands a significant amount of magazine coverage in the international press. Doing a frayed hem, oversized shoulders or reworking existing garments isn’t innovative — someone has already done it and that is the group of six designers from Belgium. “ You know, the Six+1 taking the title of a new creative class, a new creative wave per se, firstly the idea of a new, more radical generation causing a shift is something that is impossible not to look up to, especially when the skill set can support mission statements creative collectives should by default push — secondly claiming that shift is incredibly important, it’s how change often becomes noted/documented, aside from having a talent — part of the journey is understanding how to showcase that — the Six+1 did this”, says Ross.
This group of designers changed the European fashion industry and has had a significant impact on the global fashion sphere. Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Oliver Theyskens, Kris Van Assche and Saint Laurent’s new creative director Anthony Vaccarello are all Belgian designers and has made a name for themselves without having to lean on regional history. The current changes in the fashion landscape has influenced some of the most relevant brands on the market today, both small and big. “Ironically creatives create and it’s the duty of critics and writers to categorise. I beg every writer I interview with to use a highlighter and create a title and circle those of us that are nudging things”, says Abloh.
Antwerp’s manifestation on the global fashion scene is in the forefront of contemporary avant-garde design, it can be seen on the runways from New York to Stockholm. Brands are taking higher risks when creating modernised ready-to-wear, they are showing their presence in wholesale, manufacturing and retail and we have the founding members of the Antwerp Six to thank for that. Tight knit groups still exist, its feels like now, the terrain is a little more fertile, theres less rules and more entry points, you can in theory invite yourself. Also, rather than collectives living together in small pockets, we’re witnessing a live stream of collectives and creative groups operate across the globe, but still in complete unison — thats a shift, says Ross.
The conclusion is no matter how you look at it, everything is a copy of something — or at least influenced by something that already exist. These six designers paved the way for some of the most interesting and highly sought after contemporary brands on the market today. These talented Belgian designers set a standard for avant-garde brands that would rather stand out than to blend in. The way they approached the fashion industry has manifested itself and their techniques and unique way of working can be seen in 2016 more frequently than ever. They are some of the most important influencers in fashion history and the way they collaborated and experimented can be seen today with brands like OFF-WHITE, Darkdron and A-Cold-Wall. The way designers work today through experimental marketing, wholesale, printing, approach to design and fabrics can be traced back to Antwerp in the 80s — and it’s all confirmed by some of the biggest new brands on the market.