Born in Leuven, a city an hour away from Antwerp, Emmanuel Ryngaert pursued a BA at the age of 18, not in fashion but in furniture and interior design. There, he was introduced to modular furniture systems like those of Charles and Ray Eames, which may be the most constructive influence on him today. Since entering the purview of fashion in Antwerp, the 26-year-old has resisted the exaggerated aesthetics of the department and remained true to his restrained modernist principles. The main thrust of his stellar MA collection is Meccano with its nuts, bolts and perforated metal strips that he used to play with as a kid. The collection begins with the most wearable pieces – a laser-cut oversized camel coat – and it gradually evolves into a more abstract, geometric configuration that evokes the DIY nature of IKEA furniture. A member of the Post-Couture Collective, Ryngaert caught the attention of jury member Jop van Bennekom of Fantastic Man who acknowledged the designer for his “distilled, pure vision.”
Why did you move from furniture design to fashion?
Fashion has been something I always considered. When I finished high school at 18, I didn’t really feel ready. I researched fashion schools in London and Antwerp, but Antwerp felt more suitable for me because of practical reasons. I’m Belgian, so it’s not the most complex situation to study here and still have contact with your family. I also knew this school was tough. I didn’t feel ready yet at 18. I love both fields.
When I was looking at your installation, I was reminded of Raf Simons’s background in industrial design and his working relationship with Kvadrat. Do you see yourself developing your collections alongside furniture pieces?
For now, I’m concentrating on fashion to see where it takes me.
I’ve heard that you want to focus on accessories. Why is that?
I feel very comfortable with accessories. It might be because of my background in furniture. Accessories are 3-D objects that are easily comprehendible. It can stand on its own without a person wearing it. It doesn’t need as much context as a garment.
You’ve been awarded a couple of prizes so far, right?
I was awarded a shoe prize last year. This year, I received an award from Knack Weekend, which is a Belgian lifestyle magazine. I also received another award for the most creative installation, which was from the Fashion Department.
I spoke to Jop from Fantastic Man. He studied in Amsterdam, where students’ work is distilled to the purest form in a minimalistic way. He noted that it’s the opposite in Antwerp, but he acknowledged your collection as the most focussed one. Why do you think that is?
I love the school, but I realised last year that I have a very different aesthetic and point of view. It is a focus on process. If it doesn’t need to be there, I remove it. The students here are more like painters. It’s beautiful to watch. They add and layer things on their garments that don’t actually do anything. It’s not something I can do, and it is not the way I work.
Has that affected the way you discuss your ideas with your tutors?
Walter and I had a more polite relationship. I didn’t get a boost of energy from him, but it’s fine. My fellow students were supportive.
From what I’ve heard so far, you seem to know yourself pretty well. Did you try to conform to what was expected of you?
I tried to do more exaggerated things in my 2nd year, but it didn’t really sit right. In the 2nd year, you don’t really know what your aesthetic is. It’s good to try things. If you make something you don’t like, you learn a lot more. I think it’s important to try new things. Sometimes you have to do something you don’t like to find out what you do like.
You did the collection to conform and the response was great. It would be natural to continue along the same vein. What made you stop and reconsider it?
It made me happy that the tutors were happy. I hadn’t thought of this very much. It’s a challenge to recognise and be self-aware, and not let your surroundings dictate your creative processes. What you do in your studio is informed by what’s happening outside of it. It’s hard to stay true to yourself sometimes, and listen to the voice within. It’s also about finding a balance between pleasing yourself and pleasing others. If you’re pleasing yourself only, you might get frustrated if there’s no response to it.
Words by Aravin Sandran
All images courtesy of Emmanuel A. Ryngaert