Belgian fashion: An Unexpected Fashion Story
Is it a source of jokes for comedians – to add to the clichés of beer, mussels and fries?
Could it be just a polite imitation of Parisian fashion for the Bruxelloise and the Belgian royal family?
Or the rebel yell of a young, dynamic, Flemish-leaning group who made a statement about fashion in the Eighties?
I think of recycling, raw seams, oversize cutting and a cerebral attitude as a definition of Belgian fashion designers, who offered a modest but forceful vision to face off the extravagant Eighties. But I can barely believe that these designers first appeared almost 30 years ago.
The success of the original Antwerp Six in 1986 seems still to mystify its own country, hence the title of a new exhibition at the Bozar – Centre for Fine Arts – in Brussels: The Belgians: An Unexpected Fashion Story (until September 13).
The first of these fashion “soldiers” are the more traditional designers who dressed class and court and rarely had international recognition. But at the centre of the line-up are the famous Antwerp Six whose names, from Dries Van Noten to Ann Demeulemeester to Walter Van Beirendonck, first triggered interest in Belgian design.
Dries van Noten mens rain coat at Bozar Brussels
Designer Jean-Paul Lespagnard at the show in Brussels
Margiela used sandals to make a jacket
The continuing line-up includes many names, from designer Kris Van Assche through Gerald Watelet and his graceful couture designs to Haider Ackermann, an honorary Belgian because he was at college in Antwerp.
Margiela, the “invisible” designer, who was fashion’s founding father of recycling and deconstruction, is the exhibition’s hero, with a section devoted – behind a “wall” of silver ribbons – to his recycled clothes, including a jacket with three arms and shoes shaped with toes. Margiela was perhaps the first designer to be an activist against fashion waste – the antithesis of today’s fast fashion. Missing was a series of videos or digitalised pictures that could have emphasised that role.
However, there is a strong section devoted to current designers with a commitment to a “greener” fashion universe.
Yet this exhibition seems more like a wistful memory of things past than Belgian designers in today’s dynamic.
Martin Margiela deconstructed and reused outfits
Stilettos made from Fragile Sellotape from Maison Martin Margiela s/s ’06