Nine final year fashion students from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, bring together the idea of cultural and tribal influences in modern day fashion through their annual Ethnic Project collection. Exploring this concept, each student brings forward a costume, which incorporates elements of distinctive traditions from Europe to Africa. The themes within the collection are vast, ranging from femininity to spirituality. Despite the uniqueness of each individual design, there is a sense of intimate connection and unity within the project. Giving us an invite into their vision — both personal and technical — we learn about the developmental process and journey from these nine emerging designers.
With a clear idea of where to take his ethnic project from the start, Lukas Spilka presents a piece to be worn specifically during the celebration of St. Nicholas. Searching for inspiration from mysterious European culture and traditions, he was instantly consumed by the fantasy and horror of Krampus, a horned anthropomorphic figure, in Austria. From further research, he found Klausentreiben, which can be found in parts of Germany, a version of Krampus with a fur mask, rather than a wooden one. Through his immaculate construction of the mask and horns, Lukas successfully captures the essence of fascination and fear in his design.
FEDERICA DI LEO
The multicultural nature of Sicily provides Federica Di Leo with the opportunity to interact with and learn about immigrants from various parts of Africa. From these exchanges, Federica became particularly enchanted by the traditional, spiritual costume worn during the Eyo festival, which takes place in Lagos, Nigeria. “This ghostlike costume personifies the spirits of the city that cleaned up Lagos from the evils,” she states. Delving deeper into the history of the Eyo festival, she found that she needed to interpret this layered and secretive costume in her own way. And, after discovering the shape of all the pieces, “the rest of the work became less challenging.”
Narrative is important to consider when viewing works by Yanaika Nuyts. In order to create an immersive tribal experience of the Southern Bwa(ba), she works impulsively. Using non-traditional patterns and textiles, she experiments with various materials such as natural fibres, ropes, and wood. “I loved working with these rough materials, improvising techniques and catching a vibe of the spiritual world of the Bwa.” Developing a vision and signature sense of creativity, Yanaika finds that comfort and duality becomes integral in her creative process. “I see the possibilities of this costume in movement outside its original spiritual context of the Bwa.”
Aiming to rediscover his roots, Aaron Arnoldt cites Germany as his direct source of inspiration. After several years of discovering other countries and cultures, he feels at peace to embrace the dialect and traditions of Germany. Inspired by Fransennarr, a costume worn during Narrenumzüge, a festival that takes place in the Black Forest, Aaron focuses on the elaborate details and richness of colour in his design. In order to imitate the intricacy of the costume, everything is made by hand. “You will always get a really personal result; it reminds me of when I used to make bespoke suits.”
Inspired by “a real, fantastic historical costume from Spain,” David Ring set out to source his own tree bark, the main element of his costume, in the woods. His seemingly humorous and naïve approach in gathering necessary materials became a catalyst for his successful outcome. Through his interaction with another artist who was able to provide him with dry bark, David’s collaborative process allowed him to carry on with his design. His prior experience in designing a historical costume was useful in working his way around the difficulties of patternmaking. When asked what he wishes he had done differently, he admits: “absolutely nothing.”
Takuya Sasaki rediscovers Japanese culture through his intense and shocking design. Focusing on Orochi, a masked dance costume based on Japanese mythology worn during the Kagura festival, Takuya incorporates elements of this traditional design in his own work. With prior experience in customising his own clothes and remaking his school uniform, he chose to make everything by hand, using various materials such as bamboo, clay, and Japanese paper. Comparing this process with making kinetic sculptures, he demonstrates his ability to experiment with different garment making techniques.
Translating desire and feelings into garments, Nastasia Fine works in a sensitive and sensual way. By experimenting with various techniques acquired over the past few years, the ethnic project provided an opportunity for Natasha to work freely and spontaneously. Choosing to work with materials other than fabric, she focuses on incorporating beads and embroidery into the colourful Dogon tribe costume worn during funerals by male dancers from Mali. “I really like the idea of men with women’s attributes,” she explains of her influences. Inspired by the Kabuki theatre (Japanese theatre) and geisha, she created a piece that essentially expresses how men can translate this femininity through dance and movement.
Seeking to incorporate an element of contemporary relevance into her work, Shayli Harrison typically focuses on life beyond the fashion industry. From drag queens to her own grey hairs, she is interested in immersing herself in experiments revolving around her project topic. Once Shayli came across the character of Diablesse from the Diablada festival in Oruro, Bolivia, she decided to use this character as part of the inspiration imagery. “This character spoke to me both in how she is represented and what she represents. I am attracted by her appearance, her sexuality, and her power.” Having to pay attention to an infinite amount of detail with a variation of techniques, it is impossible for her to cut corners. In order to do Diablesse justice through her design, Shayli takes special care in making everything as close to the original as possible.
It’s a multidisciplinary approach that Camille Seydoux takes in her design processes. With an interest in graphic design, photography, and printmaking, she is able to create pieces that incorporate a combination of practices. “It is fascinating to see a piece of fabric becoming a living sculpture,” she ponders. The impressive and rich fabric treatments and prints of Egungun, referring to Yoruba masquerades, became the starting point for Camille’s ethnic project. Willing to take on a challenge, she decided to create this complex and sacred piece from detailed and exquisite pieces of fabric. Her intention for her design is clear: “It remains symbolic and should be respected.”
Photography by Michaël Smits for 1 Granary
Words by Grace Ahn