Compared to stressed-out cities like London and New York, Antwerp is on a whole different level. When travelling there, one can breathe without feeling a continuous anxiety of inhaling thousands of polluted air particles. It almost seems as if this clarity of air puts people in a no-rush clarity of mind — an attitude that can be found in its inhabitants, its established fashion designers and leaders of the industry — from A.F. Vandevorst to director of ModeMuseum Kaat Debo — and its students who are enrolled at Antwerp’s Fashion Department, who flock from all over the world to receive a one-of-a-kind education in the heart of Europe.
Backstage during the Academy’s SHOW 2015, there was a sense of amicability, support, together with an incredible amount of sweat as temperatures reached 30 degrees, and a spirit of genuine fun — especially with the college’s yearly tradition of storming the runway after the final designer shows his/her collection. At the climax, students from all years and their tutors dress up in one another’s garments and dance under a rain of confetti in front of the audience.
In the span of four hours, the show-goers — a mix of industry professionals, friends and family — first saw skirt-and-dress experiments by first year students come down the runway, followed by second years’ historical costumes; ethnic costumes of year 3, and finally the graduate collections of the 10 MA students. What is noteworthy about Antwerp’s show is the opportunity to see the college curriculum as a whole, in a way honouring the students’ trajectory and development; offering a way of reflecting on past work, while probably still keeping a healthy sense of competition by showing all years on one runway and aiming to make them, well, shoot for the moon and improve.
The fact that the show is accessible to whoever wishes to buy a ticket and travel down to a massive warehouse in Park Spoor Noord — the new show location — in a way democratises the way fashion shows take place. It created a different environment from what you may find in the fashion capitals (unless you’re invited to see Cruise collection in Montenegro). It felt like a bank holiday, perhaps also thanks to the aforementioned hot weather, and everybody needing to get their cool back with refreshments, burgers and tacos that were sold right outside of the venue. The fact that we ran into friends from London, Paris and Kiev shows the college’s international importance. After all, the Fashion Department houses at least 35 different nationalities at any given time — something which most likely will not be found at Law degrees in this city. If scared by the fact that you must pass a Dutch exam to enrol: do not fret, or worry. Though many people freak out that you need to learn Dutch in one year— the basics will suffice. Hello = hallo. Good evening = good night. I want to buy 50 metres of fabric = ik wil graag 50 meter textiel kopen. Done = klaar.
It is evident that there are many ways to make a final-year show happen. For example, when 40 Central Saint Martins BA Fashion students were selected to show their designs on the runway this year, those who didn’t make the cut in turn decided to silently protest and show their collections outside of the venue under the collective name #encoreCSM, ready to be examined up-close by industry insiders. In a similar vein, a group of Parsons’ BFA graduates took the initiative to stage a runway show in a nightclub donned under the name Salon des Refuses as, again, other graduates were selected by a jury to show their work at a benefit with attendants like Anna Wintour and Vanessa Friedman. The Royal College of Art also changed track as Zowie Broach encouraged students to be actively involved in the dialogue of how they wanted their work to be presented, which started as early as their Work in Progress show earlier this year. How do you curate a show and ‘please’ all the students? Time for more innovative thinking?
Words by Jorinde Croese
Film by Luke Clayton Thompson
Photography courtesy of 1 Granary