Craft is dead, long live craft. We’ve all heard it before: nowadays, buyers make decisions based on social media following rather than quality, and influencers have more power than fashion critics. Or so they say. So where does that leave the fields within fashion that occupy themselves with intricate handworks and detailed embellishments? Designers that would rather spend a whole night sewing a single string of beads than print an ironic slogan on a hoodie? Into the studio and into their heads, former Antwerp students Julia Ballardt and Jonathan Franz uncover how craft can survive in the age of Clarendon.

Words Jonathan Franz
Images Julia Ballardt

Brandon Wen (from Los Angeles) studied fashion design in New York before being enchanted by the window displays at the MoMu and decided to live the Antwerp dream. His 3BA collection started from his personal origin, was directly inspired by the heritage of Burkina Faso and throughout the year unfolded into something beyond his control. He rode the wave and presents a year worth of artisanal expertise and experiment, aligned with personal stories and memories.

What initiated this collection?
I was inspired by the summer in Los Angeles, where most of my family is living, and my grandmother in Galicia. When I came back to Antwerp I realized that the collection was about her. I had a lot of family issues which influenced my work. Looking back, I couldn’t have anticipated these events when starting on my collection, but weirdly everything seemed to fall into place and making this collection brought emotional closure to this whole rollercoaster.

Which treasures did you discover on the way?
I gathered materials like wicker, seashells and light washed denim, because that screams summer and Malibu Beach to me. In my grandma’s house in Spain I found old sequin and shiny lurex dresses of hers, pictures that show her and my aunts at parties, always dressed up and a little bit extra. I looked at Spanish figures like the flamenco dancer and the matador. Eventually, I found the link between those topics in my ethnical costume choice this year, which comes from Burkina Faso.

How did the process go?
The use of organic materials from my ethnical costume and old braiding techniques to attach them came quite naturally. This also made it a fun year, because I like sewing, but if I can sit there braiding grass, I’d rather do that.
In the beginning, it was easy to collect, too, in a forest close to Antwerp, but the second time my brother and I went in spring there were a lot of fresh green ones, and it took longer to find usable, dry ones. It wasn’t that easy to pull off, either, because the grass breaks. I had to paint it with glycerine, not very natural, to keep it a bit supple. Then I could bring it in shape by steaming it. That took a bit of practice and I wasn’t able to make try-outs of those pieces.
For the tailored garments, I was especially focusing on preventing the shaped pants from collapsing and still be wearable, so the model could move in them. It took a while to find the right quality of interlining.

Having looked to the past, what are your plans for the future?
I definitely want to finish school here in Antwerp with a Master. After this turbulent year, I would like to finish on a more joyful note. After that, I would like to gather some experience in the industry first, but then I can see myself starting my own label. Despite having friends in fashion and having worked in it myself for like a minute, I’m somehow still not turned off to the idea. I’m not sure if there will be a place for “Crafty Brandon” in the world, but I guess I’ll have to create it.