Representing the creative future

ANTWERP MA 2024: Can you dream big through tough times?

Discover the collections and sketchbooks of the Antwerp 2024 graduates

The disillusionment with fashion education stems from a paradox: the imperative for originality juxtaposed with the necessity to appeal to mainstream markets to be part of the so-called ‘industry.’ How does creation happen in creatively challenging times? The 18 master graduates of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp tell us about dreams, nightmares, and what we can eventually make of them. It seems that the tranquil atmosphere in the low-key Belgian fashion capital remains fertile ground for students to focus and unleash their full creative potential. The lack of resources and big-city distractions allows the 2024 designers to explore innovative solutions.

With the enduring promise of sending walking sculptures down the runway and a self-crafted approach to fashion design and education, Antwerp continues to affirm itself as a center for the ‘future of fashion.’ Among the diverse collections, a possible common thread is the use of craftsmanship embedded with personal storytelling and graphical language. Using extensive accessorizing and emphasizing how the clothes are used and what they could signify, each collection is deeply rooted in today’s societal norms, aiming to disrupt and redefine them.

Revolution often starts within a family, gradually influencing and inspiring a broader audience. For many graduates, the question remains: How can you move from the safety of the creative fashion school bubble to the unforgiving industry?

Uliana Dobrovskaya 

Uliana Dobrovskaya’s collection focuses on the weight of expectations when entering the corporate world. The wish is to make a captivating, graceful entrance, capturing everyone’s attention and admiration. The underlying thought is: “What if I stumble in front of everyone?” “That’s what we all think on our first day at a new job or during our first work interview,” she explains. The feeling Uliana wants to portray through her collection is a sort of quest for professional success and approval for the girl with a perfect tight ponytail, which at the most unsuitable moment could eventually fall apart. “Ultimately, this collection is not about perfection. It is about the raw authenticity that lies beneath us. It portrays a slightly clumsy girl navigating life through insecurities and ambitions, on a quest to embody an ideal standard. She finds realness, embraces her imperfections, and uncovers her true self.”

Uliana Dobrovskaya Antwerpse Academiel Antwerp, Belgium Friday 31 May 2024 Pix.: © Catwalkpictures
Uliana Dobrovskaya Antwerpse Academiel Antwerp, Belgium Friday 31 May 2024 Pix.: © Catwalkpictures
Uliana Dobrovskaya Antwerpse Academiel Antwerp, Belgium Friday 31 May 2024 Pix.: © Catwalkpictures

XueHu Zhang

XueHu Zhang’s final collection is an exploration of the intersection between nostalgia, surrealism, and perception. The concept of anemoia captures a deeply human emotion, a longing for a past we never experienced but somehow feel connected to. Pairing this with the eerie sensation of ‘liminal space’ aesthetics creates a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, where the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The garments evoke a sense of craftsmanship and artistry, with textures reminiscent of low-poly game graphics and silhouettes that play with perspective, blurring the lines between two and three dimensions. The use of darkening and deepening edge shadows adds depth and mystery, drawing the viewer deeper into this abstracted reality. “I dive deep into the analogy of childhood artistry, where we simplify and distort reality through our perception. It speaks to the power of perspective and belief in shaping our understanding of the world around us.”

Jinny Song

Everything about this collection began with Jinny Song’s return to Los Angeles after a four-year absence. Reflecting on the formative childhood years spent there and the complex dynamics of the relationship with her mother, this collection is an exploration of the love and healing shared between a mother and her child. Drawing inspiration from the Venus of Willendorf, the primal symbol of maternal figures and the origins of historical deities, Song focused on crafting fabric treatment with meaning. These treatments embody the emotions evoked within her when contemplating her mother and the essence of motherhood itself. “The interplay of sheer fabrics, overlaying forms and masses signifies the generational transfer of emotional trauma—a silent legacy carried forward across time.”

Sofia Hermens Fernandez

When we think of girlhood, we are impelled to look at representations and images of girls for what will be recognized as girlhood in society. Sofia Hermens Fernandez’s collection circles around the semiotics of Western girlhood. The designer is particularly interested in how these images can be subverted into a feminist attitude through the use of handcraft. The process of reclaiming the concept of girlhood stands in the context of its marginalization in patriarchal societies. With her collection, Sofia offers her unique perspective on a subversive form of girlhood in fashion, aiming to broaden the concept as a creative attitude that more identities can embrace. “I hope to reinterpret girlhood as a producer of culture that offers conceptual reflections on contemporary femininity.”

What is freedom? Perhaps it’s a journey, like traveling the Silk Road, seeking a place for my carpet in a chaotic, manipulative world full of forces, institutions, and labels. On this road, we face and continue to face restrictions that shape us into a cage of labels. Third Finger takes inspiration from the idea of the ‘Panopticon’ by Jeremy Bentham from the mid-1700s, an invented social control mechanism that would become a comprehensive symbol for modern authority in the world. A prison system was developed by Michel Foucault where he expanded the idea into a symbol of social control that extends into everyday life for all citizens. “They want to shape you in this corrupted, self-oriented, and power-based world to become someone according to their rules in this game. This started from my early memories of my childhood. Coming from a country positioned between the East and the West, Turkey, I’m used to a culture that often rumors ‘What would they say and think about me?’. This question triggers me to think, even here in another context, questioning myself why I can’t be everything. This is the reason why the collection is searching for in-betweenness. Between soft and hard, powerful and weak, big and small. It is a collection that is questioning and protesting the institutions, power, religion, restrictions, and rules. “In the end, we thought we were the kings and princesses in our homes trying to convince ourselves that we are out of 1255…. In reality, we live in the same blocked houses of fake kingdoms, in a world full of restrictions.”

Yuhei Ueda

“Espresso in Rome, whole milk in Spakenburg, fresh orange juice in Paris. I realized the real taste of ingredients I had never noticed before.” Almost like an epiphany, for Yuhei Ueda it was a moment of luxury to realize the essence of ingredients, lost in pre-made products such as instant coffee, skimmed milk, and orange-flavored juice. To find out what the essence of ‘modern fashion’ has lost, Ueda looked at pre-industrial garments and fabrics, believing he could potentially bring the experiences that he had through clothing. “For my master collection, I’ve created garments using natural fabrics such as wool, linen, silk, and cotton. I referred to cutting techniques of workwear such as aprons, smocks, and chore coats.”

Briac Tremolieres

Briac Tremolieres’ collections is emblematically represented by the poetic work of William Morris , a multifaceted English artist, designer, writer, and socialist renowned for his significant contributions to the Arts and Crafts Movement, which emphasized on traditional craftsmanship, simple forms, and the use of natural materials.


Margot Verstuyft

Verstuyft’s collection is a tribute to the power and beauty of dance. “This fall, I went to Sharon Eyal’s pulsating ‘Half Life’ and witnessed how dance serves as a universal expression, seamlessly intertwining the diverse strands of humanity. I fell in love with the dancers, their self-expression, their physicality, and their unwavering commitment to the movement. I wanted to dress them.” Researching how garments move, the designer tried to bring that movement into every garment — drawing inspiration from contemporary dance pioneers such as Pina Bausch, Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan, and Loïe Fuller. The timeless elegance of ballet captivated Margot, from the raw, unfiltered beauty of rehearsals to the intricate layers of knitwear, leg-warmers, and the charm of pointe shoes. “Curtain Call” is a celebration of the body in motion.

Leo Emanuelli

Last summer, while working as a salesperson in a shoe shop in Paris, in one of the city’s most luxurious areas, Leo Emanuelli had the chance to spot elegant women strolling on the street or coming into the shop. “I really enjoyed this experience because it allowed me to observe everything about these ladies, from their attitude to the way they were dressed. At the same time, just a few meters away, there happened to be a burglary where almost 100 million euros worth of jewelry were stolen. It was very interesting to witness this kind of criminal activity happening in such a refined environment.” Seeing these men, dressed in black with guns and motorcycles, in the middle of historical buildings and five-star hotels, created a striking contrast for the designer. From that moment, he started reflecting on the relationship between luxury and the rest of the world, especially the working class. Luxury items are often seen as status symbols. “When I was younger, I thought that rappers flaunting expensive cars and high-end branded outfits were the epitome of success.” In this collection, elevating the elements that surrounded him when growing up in a working-class family, he tried to give them an intrinsic feeling of luxury, not necessarily in quality but in attitude. “Fully Loaded” is blurring the idea of social status, blending roughness with elegance and mostly creating a contrast between different atmospheres, merging them to form an unexpected new unity.

Jieun Lee

Jieun Lee’s master collection is a reflection on childhood memories. At the age of 16, when she moved to New Zealand and began attending school as one of the few Asians in her class, struggling with English, she often felt like an outsider. During this period, she stumbled upon the unifying power of ‘uniforms.’ “Despite our diverse backgrounds, wearing uniforms provided me with comfort during my time in school. This realization ignited my fascination with preppy and Ivy League looks. Inspired by this experience, I aim to combine this concept with the couture looks of the 1950s.” Here, uniforms represent her own identity, while couture signifies the fashion environment surrounding her. This collection is also intertwined with the time spent in Antwerp. It symbolizes gratitude for the friendships and love of all those who have always supported the designer. “It paradoxically signifies the liberation from my childhood traumas, as it demonstrates that I can connect with the people I love, even without wearing uniforms, speaking the same language, or belonging to the same race.”

Peiwen Mao

Peiwen Mao’s designs reflect themes of childhood, recovery, self, and the body. According to an Indian legend, the leopard is a solitary animal living in isolation. When afflicted with diseases like jungle fever, as it nears death, its shadow leaves its body and transforms into a black panther. This panther hunts and fends off enemies until the leopard recovers. However, once transformed, the black panther cannot revert to its shadow form. “This inspired me with the mirror principle, where details reflect the whole, fantasy reflects reality, animality reflects humanity, and vice versa,” the designer explained.

Gabrielle Szwarcenberg

A4 format sees paper as our daily accomplice—capturing thoughts in scribbled notes, concealing secrets in folded envelopes, and narrating stories through dog-eared corners. Its fonts, hues, and patterns bear the graphic fingerprints of history, silently telling stories on office documents, magazines, receipts, menus, greeting cards, and newspapers. Gabrielle’s ephemeral collection explores childhood pursuits as a rite of passage, celebrating the ingenious and imaginative ways we entertain ourselves with commonplace iconography. From a string becoming a cat’s cradle figure to sandcastles rising from grains, paper joins in our playful exploits. With a few strategic folds, any found scrap can transform into a revealing fortune teller or soaring paper airplane. For Szwarcenberg, paper is a versatile vessel for information, a medium for prototyping models, and a blank canvas for geometry. “I’m fascinated by paper’s adaptability. Frozen in time with annotations, tape remnants, and instructions—echoing the labor invested in copying and reworking existing designs.”

Guillaume Gossen

Guillaume Gossen’s collection “Deers in Headlights” is an ode to the garments that make us, wrap us, and twist us in the wonders of the human touch. Spiraled in intricate fascinations, a drive to build a personal design vocabulary of garment codes; codes and symbols that are familiar through distant entangled connections. “That of a story of imprint impressions and tactile narratives. Garments that excited our pleasures to redefine our construction of utilitarian limitations. Indulgence in the desire to gloss, twist, recut, and de-thread the very notions of our references,” the designer explains. All dressed up with nowhere to go, the melancholic joy of primal sophistication.

Pommie Dierick

WILD HORSES RUN FREE embraces the determined spirit of femininity and strength. Drawing inspiration from the raw, untamed rock ‘n’ roll energy of Pommie Dierick’s icons, Grace Jones and Betty Davis, this collection is a tribute to challenging societal norms and expectations to create your own path with audacity and grace. The collection features stripes, which initially symbolize limitations but evolve into symbols of strength and uniqueness. “I experimented with many different ways to use striped patterns to create a graphical line throughout the collection.”

Byeongho Lee

Byeongho Lee’s collection is an attempt to reinterpret the characteristics of the neighborhood she grew up in with a cinematic atmosphere. The designer’s garments are heavily inspired by the visual beauty of ‘Blade Runner 1987,’ set in the slums of an oriental future city. “I was very inspired by the underdeveloped street and market where my parents’ store was located. In that place, various working-class people and homeless gathered around the very old park. Old buildings and streets around there were reminiscent of a dystopia of the cyberpunk.”

Tim Wirth

Tim Wirth’s collection, “n0thing n3w,” challenges the necessity of constant innovation and uniqueness in fashion design. What determines a garment’s worth? Is it the pursuit of innovation or the cultivation of emotional connections? Additionally, with so much existing fashion, what more can be added? “I believe that innovative, thus unique, designs aren’t inherently better. Therefore, I want to create something not for novelty value but for the sake of connection—to create vehicles for emotional discourse.”

Drawing inspiration from everyday people and attire, Tim reflected on often overlooked garments that are the antithesis of innovative: basic utilitarian uniforms, everyday clothes, staples, and other norm-core garments. “By infusing these familiar garments with a sense of mystery and significance, I hope to provoke thought and revive appreciation for simpler fashion.”

Rohan Kale Steinmeyer

Rohan’s collection, CONTACT, is dedicated to the people and places that raised the designer. “It is a dedication to my German, American, and Indian heritage, and the ‘cut-and-paste’ identities that excite me.” Through fashion, it is always possible to see how intertwined clothing and cultural identity are. The way we dress expresses our values, our histories, and how we relate to each other. We build relationships with clothing that negotiate between self-expression and repression, assimilating and celebrating, honesty and fantasy. “In this collection, I analyze these relationships we’ve built with, for example, that shirt we wear to work every day, those jeans we drag through mud, or that dress we wear to every party because we know that someone will compliment us. This collection is how I relate to the people and clothing around me, and how I celebrate them too.”

Sofia Rodriguez Rodriguez

With her collection “BROKEN TOOTH,” Sofia Rodriguez Rodriguez wanted to show others, and herself, what life could look like when a severe control freak loses sense of control for a while and thus enters a state of fear for the unknown. “I grabbed some tarot cards to guide me in my life and put rose quartz under my pillow to protect me from the nightmares that haunt me during the nights of panic.” Those nightmares, like driving her car off a bridge into the Schelde at sunset, or spitting out her teeth that have fallen out, showed her things her brain developed when she didn’t control it. “Conceptually, I tried to translate this feeling into garments that almost seem to burst out of their seams. I combined these pieces with voluminous fabric manipulations.”