Lennon shot dead, Pac Man released, CNN established and… the Antwerp Six transform the face of Belgian fashion. Forever. Check your history books folks, it all happened in the early 80’s. The Antwerp Six? Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee, all alumni from Antwerp’s renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
The 80’s symbolise a decade of global revolution for designers. Fashion flourishes, with French talent giving rise to Gaultier, Armani and Versace thriving in Italy and Japan’s Comme des Garçons debuting in Paris. Everything seems to be going for couture. Walter Van Beirendonck saw this revolution as a “sign that creativity can conquer the world”.
His vision of a mode-ruled world was soon crushed, however, as commerce took centre stage in the fashion scene where businessmen and product managers take over inventiveness and creation. Van Beirendonck notes, “Fashion has become a big business, it’s a scary situation – just look at what happened with people like Helmut Lang and Jil Sander who were bought, sold and put out of the industry.” Van Beirendonck refuses to play that game. He fuels his artistic vocation by igniting his inner identity; between green paper and genuine creativity, Van Beirendonck opts for the latter. His work is so stylistically defined you either love it or loathe it. I love it.
Inspired by surrealistic literature, ultra-modern paintings, soft-core pornography, spaceships and the universe of sci-fi (like the music inspirations of Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West). Walter’s work shoots us into a dazzling world of the extraordinary. Expect flat, neon, harsh, clashing colours, and strikingly over sized, off the wall accessories – red nylon belt bags made out of 3D letters spelling FLY, extravagant quiffs, alien-like gigantic plastic headphones and Stephen Jones’ eclectic millinery hats to top off the outfits.
In the creation process of any collection, his first sketches are accompanied by ideas of show staging, make up and face painting designs, eccentric styling and all that goes with it; he says, “I am a storyteller and it is my way of thinking and presenting a global vision”. His catwalk shows are an art work in themselves: imagine human canvases strutting back and forth, robotically, to electro-pop beats. His models are transformed into characters of fiction, ornamental objects and elements of nature. At Walter’s displays we’ve witnessed walking trees, walking mushrooms and walking clouds, all exhibiting garments that even Lady Gaga would think twice about rocking. Walter playfully provokes the audience’s perception as he fashions abstract 3D garments shaped as airplanes, bazooka guns, galloping horses and whatnot. Cool!
Behind this Popfather of Fashion, sucked into a child’s wonderland of fantasies and fairytales, lies a political mind, sensitive to the global issues affecting our societies. In his STOP TERRORIZING OUR WORLD collection, Van Beirendonck’s artistic powers are put to use in a poignant protest against multiple contemporary problems. Walter’s Mr. Greedy outfit made from hand embroidered and appliquéd wool is a satirical critique on the raging consumerism of the Western world. He translates consumerism through a cartoon-like patchwork of iconic symbols – the Yankee dollar note, the Golden Arches of McDonalds, the US’ striped and starred flag and other iconic logos. Along side Mr. Greedy walked Mr. Exterminator, protesting against the ravages caused by diseases, and Miss Amazon, a beautiful forest rotting under human exploitation.
Walter Van Beirendonck is an inspirational artist who explores his multiple talents, remaining true to his heart and to his vision. If you wish to indulge in orgasmic artistry why don’t you DREAM THE WORLD AWAKE with Big Walter in the MOMU fashion museum of Antwerp – they’re currently running a retrospective exhibition retracing the magic he has been creating for the past three decades.