Representing the creative future

Antwerp MA Fashion show 2022: Small team, big ideas

Meet the 12 fashion master graduates of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts

Antwerp. A beautiful town, situated in Belgium. Famously known to be the birthplace of the Antwerp 6, and this year, 12 masters are graduating from the Royal Academy of Arts. “The class of 2022 is close to my heart, as it is the last class I worked with,” says designer, member of the Antwerp 6 and teacher Walter van Beirendonck. After decades of teaching, the class of 2022 is the last bunch of upcoming talent he brought through the joys and tears of fashion school. “Seeing their looks walking down the runway makes my heart beat faster,” he adds.

He has seen legends coming and going, changing fashion with the unique ethos of Antwerp engraved in their minds. “I am so happy that we are showing live again after two years of online showcases”, says Walter. The live show took place on the 3rd and 4th of June with the following presentation to the jury, which included one of the school’s most famous alumni Demna Gvasalia. Beirendonck himself initially never had any ambitions to teach at the Academy himself. But when the pieces fell into place, he realised how good he was at pushing people to their limits, he says. “My philosophy was always based on what the student stands for, what they want to do and how we make them do it on their own,” he says. Looking back at his career, he is most proud of being able to motivate them and give them the wings to fly out into the world after.

Compared to other major fashion schools, The Royal Academy is very small. “With a small team, you are able to achieve something and outweigh those big houses with huge teams. That’s something you can do with a certain way of working. Going into the depths and aspiring to reach a high level is crucial,” says Walter. Studying in Antwerp opens the doors to Europe’s coolest avant-garde fashion community. At her grocery run, Alise Anna Dzirniece regularly runs into Ann Demeulemeester, she says over zoom. “A couple of weeks ago, when we visited Dries’ home, I had thing exploding in my chest. It was amazing, full of passion. All the others felt it too”, says Alise. “Antwerp is so small. After the last fabric store closes, we just text each other when we need anything. We all live only five minutes away from one another. We all know each other’s girlfriend and boyfriend’s names, or even the dog’s names. We are like a family- I have so many brothers and sisters now,” says Yeongho Ko.

SHOW2022 is a celebration of creativity, and fantasy, seasoned with a touch of activism. Whereas Dominika invites us into her whimsical world, Alise showcases pure emotion in the setting of a lavish dinner party, Ching-Lin Chen opens his family album for us and Yeongho raises awareness about the threatening climate crisis. References are drawn from heritage, over fine art to pop culture. The twelve masters are just starting to spread their wings, ready to fly out into the world. “I love that our fashion students are coming from all over the world. And I hope they take a little bit of Antwerp with them in their heart, once they graduate” says Walter.

ALISE ANNA DZIRNIECE “Unapologentic feast”

“My collection Unapologetic feast is about losing manners at a dinner party,” says Latvian designer Alise Anna Dzirniece. It’s a collage of madness, desire, liberation and sugar shocks. When she started to create her collection, she was inspired by the Czech movie Daisies about two preppy girls, both named Mary. “It is a wonderful coming-of-age film where the protagonists [end up] dancing on the table full of food, truly wild on a sugar high and not holding back.” During the process, Alise reflected a lot on how there were no dinners during the height of lockdowns: “I thought, oh my god, how do I even remember how to act when I go to a dinner party? What is going to happen?” In her garments, she explores motifs of desire, seduction and liberation. She was particularly inspired by the nostalgia of her own childhood, where she recalls memories of her Soviet-born mother restricting her sugar intake. “My collection is a manifesto of letting yourself go in a primal and savage way. It’s about going wild.” Her creations are colourful and, if they had sounds, they’d be loud. She hand-painted the fabrics, merging art with her sense of expression.

AMIR TORRES “The Garden of Evil”

The summer before Amir Torres started his Master’s degree, he started thinking about the chaos in the world. “It’s so crazy and so violent. There are so many awful things happening. I just sat there, thinking wow, there is all this stuff going on and I am just making dresses in all this chaos. I wanted my collection, The Garden of Evil, to be a reflection of this sentiment,” the Mexican designer says. The process was very therapeutic, even though it leads to no correct answer or solution, he says. “I started to think about the best way to synthesise the beautiful creation with the ugly reality.” In his mind, he started to imagine a garden that is growing through the end of the world. Flowers grow, while asteroids are falling, and fires are burning. To create this mystical world, he looked into biblical and renaissance paintings. “In those paintings, they are all wearing torn pieces of clothing – it reminded me of some kind of decay.” His clothes are a juxtaposition of elegant embroidery fused with textile manipulation. A key influence was Melancholia by Danish film director Lars von Trier. “I liked it, and I felt so guilty for that… Watching this film and seeing a character becoming comfortable with the end of the world got the ball rolling in my head.”


Strictly, Igor Dieryck started his graduate collection years back, when he was on exchange in South Africa. It was the first time he had had to wear a uniform to school. The Belgian designer has been fascinated with uniforms ever since – how they make everyone equal and how they change our manners. During his studies at the Royal Academy of Antwerp, he worked in a hotel. “My collection is inspired by the environment of the hotel: the staff, the workers, the uniforms and the guests,” he says. He was inspired by the signifiers of a uniform, how clothing instantly denotes status, importance and even salary. “It’s funny – a lot of creative people are actually against the idea of a uniform since it takes the artist’s freedom of self-expression away,” he says. “For me, the uniform is not something bad. It’s just really interesting to see how it modifies the people’s vision on you.” Artistically, his creations are inspired by Belgian photographer Dirk Braeckman. “He takes very dark images of people, but never shows their faces. They are really simple, yet there is so much happening,” he says. The designer is drawn to things that stand the test of time. His graduate collection YESSIR explores the worlds of the uniform wearer – the strictly tailored suit at work versus the Adidas tracksuit at home. “I want to highlight those who are ignored or concealed in our system. I want to give them a voice to be powerful.”

YONGHAO XIE “Permanent Error”

Yonghao Xie’s idea for his collection started within the pages of a book. By coincidence, he stumbled across the photographic book, Permanent Error, by Pieter Hugo. “These are photo series taken in the early 2000s in Agbogbloshie, one of the most polluted cities of e-waste in Ghana,” he says. “They burn all the waste there. After the burning, the plastic will melt, and they will get valuable metal that they can sell for a living. Yet still, this process causes a lot of pollution.” The Chinese designer always starts his process in the library. He feels drawn to the uncomfortable, in his second year he was basing his work around situations in Ukraine. “I like to explore the dark side of the human. I always hope by letting more people know about the dark side of our life, they can rediscover the peaceful part of our hearts,” he says. In his research, he looked at what the people wear in the Hugo book: “I like to analyse them, how they are wearing their daily look and how it gives them some sense of protection since they don’t have the money to buy proper uniforms”, he says. “They use t-shirts like their armour. It’s their second skin. That was my starting point.” For the last six years, the designer has been living in Europe, a culture so different from China, his home country. “I was always inspired by European sculpture – the material, the way it makes me drape fabric in a specific way. I always try to translate this into my vision,” he says. In Permanent Error he used blue more than any other colour, symbolising hope while staying protected.


Dominika Grzybek’s world is whimsical. Her collection Ikebana started at the celebration of the Catholic holy mother’s day in August. “It is a big celebration with these beautiful bouquets of flowers,” she says. “This celebration is a very old tradition. It is about showing gratitude to the Holy Mother. What stung me is how we swallow, recreate or change traditions over the years. I was so inspired that this tradition was still going on after all these years.” To symbolise this, she wanted to go deep and communicate this over garments. “Making fabrics and embroidering is a very traditional craft for women. Incorporating this into my collection helped me to reconnect with women over different generations,” she says. “It was very important for me to have the link between fabric and the women. That was my starting point. Then I found this interesting link about being young and getting older. When the flowers get older they start to decay. They have this incredibly beautiful and poetic translation during their lifespan. They grow from being stiff to being soft.” The flowers stand for the symbol of life, which are carried by women at the celebration of the holy mother’s day. Connecting the dots, the Polish designer created a collection devoted to the heritage of feminine handicrafts, by using techniques of weaving and braiding the storylines together. For her, the quality rather than the quantity was important. She made four simple looks, each linked to the world of ancient female vocabulary she developed throughout the process.


For Natalia Saavedra, originally from Mexico City, her graduate collection Tu and Moi is the celebration of an era. “This might be my last year here in Europe. I really wanted to pay tribute to my dreams about moving here from Mexico,” she says. During her research process, she found the term ‘The Paris syndrome, used to capture a tourist’s disappointment when a city does not live up to the romantic expectations created in the head. “Everyone imagines Paris as this magical place where everyone wears couture dresses and looks like a model. Of course, Paris is amazing. It’s beautiful, but it’s also a big city. So, my collection is about my own realisation about Paris,” she says. Growing up in Mexico, the designer recalls her idealisation of Paris or Europe generally. Her life was flooded with cliché images that had very little to do with the actual reality of the place. Visually, her collection is inspired by images of Mexico, classic couture references and Mexican Telenovelas. It is a manifestation of dreams, born through an idea she believed in when she first went to Europe at the age of 15.

JIYEON TAK “Knives out”

Armoured like a knight, Jiyeon Tak’s graduate collection titled Knives out, centred around the notions of aggressiveness and hostility. “The silhouette of the collection is about knights. The backstory is about armour. I pursue anything that drives from unkindness,” she says. When the Korean designer was young, she spent a lot of time by herself in Belgium and America. “It was a really tough educational experience. I was also surrounded by very strange art in those environments. So, I became tough and tougher and maybe a bit aggressive.” In her collection, she wanted to create characters, driven by aggression and graced with the ability to openly communicate whatever they feel. Visually, the designer envisions her collection like a girl in a battle, she says. To create this, she looked a lot into German Expressionist films and silent films. “A lot of references actually came from a film called Edward with the Scissorhands. I really liked the costumes in that film. I really wanted to take that into my collection. The atmosphere of the collection was more drawn by the feel of silent films.”


Czech-born and German-raised designer Jan Novy was inspired by cars. One day, he stumbled across a short movie by the Austrian director Peter Tscherkassky. He used beautiful archival footage, which triggered the initial spark of inspiration for the designer. “From that point, I started looking at cars and what they meant to me. I grew up moving countries and we were constantly on the move between those two countries. I looked at everything that surrounds the notion and association of a car,” he says. He was fascinated by the juxtaposition of racing and the illusion of safety within this risky sport. “I started to connect this to garments. At high speeds, cars almost become sensitive even though they are such heavy things. So, in my collection, See no Evil – Fog hides Danger, I wanted to reflect that. In the movement, I wanted to reveal their lightness in the garments’ volume.” For most, cars are an object of desire, connected with deep emotion – the same goes for clothing. Novy is connecting the concrete with the emotional, two worlds that intertwine when we least expect it.

JEJUNG PARK- Double Negative

Inspired by the godfather of Pop culture and Studio 54, Jejung Park found his muse in Andy Warhol. His graduate collection, Double Negative, is a visual celebration of Warhol’s ethos through his figure, style and photographic works. “I went back to the roots. Back then, Andy got me into art and fashion. In this MA I told myself to use him as a character. I took some of his styling techniques and signature pieces into the process. He wore a lot of silver, which explains the extensive use of silver in my collection,” he says. Moreover, the Korean designer was obsessed with spiral shapes – he wants the clothes to wrap like a spiral around our bodies. “It is my own translation of Andy Warhol and who he’d be if he was still here today.” The designer was also energised by experimental music and a song named after his idol. “I didn’t really understand what the lyric said. But then I looked it up and it was about buttons. That’s why I ended up with so many buttons in this collection,” he adds. To communicate the full vision, he used elements like scarves, patchworks, draped silhouettes and modern print techniques. The sunglasses for the collection were made in collaboration with Oscar Goedert, shoes with Marko Baković and knitwear with Nelly Bellegarde.

CHING-LIN CHEN “Simply Bloom”

Ching-Lin Chen’s graduate collection, Simply Bloom, is a love letter to his parents, whom he was not able to physically meet during the two years of COVID. “I am from Taiwan, and I couldn’t go back. I could only facetime them, I couldn’t see them in real life. Then I remembered the love letter my dad wrote for my mother when they were young. I asked her to send it to me. I suddenly had this idea. If I can’t join them now, what about joining their past? So she sent me the letter, their wedding photograph and an image of my footprint when I was a baby,” the designer says. With his collection, Ching-Lin wanted to weave himself into his parents’ past. To translate this into garments, he used a technique called plain weave. Inspired by the rectangle shape of letters and photographs, he used fabric scraps in those shapes and collaged them together. Some of them had holes, so he patched them on top of one another across the whole body. It is based on the wedding and the eternal love his parents have found within themselves. He used materials inspired by their wedding looks to join them at this occasion all these years later, at least in spirit.

GONG TAEHYEOK “Bizzare Nozomi”

Taehyok Gong’s collection, Bizzare Nozomi, is a trip back into the future. When he started to look into this theme, he travelled back in time to the 1980s and 1990s. “I went into this period with my research to see what various artists thought about the future back then. I felt very inspired by cyberpunk and wanted to express this in my collection. One of the biggest inspirations was a film called blade runner,” the designer says. The topic is bizarre, he says. “Nozomi is Japanese and stands for hope and wish- so bizarre hope and wish you could say.” The Korean native was very inspired by Japanese brands when he started studying fashion as well as by cyberpunk and Japanese fiction. “That made me fall in love with fashion again,” he says of the latter influences. With his creations, he wanted to capture the trauma and fear of nuclear war that had been expressed in the cyberpunk science fiction films. To visualise this in clothing, he mixed formal materials and shapes with the 80s and 90s expressions. It is a contrast between elegant and rough, formal and aggressive. Worlds are meeting one another in a different sphere, forming a new future.

YEONGHO KO “Extincion ahead”

The planet is burning. Wildfires are everywhere, summers get hotter with every year and the ice is melting. With his collection Extinction ahead, the Korean designer Yeongho Ko wants to raise awareness about the world we live in. “I started my collection with the thought of the destructive world we live in. Every time we switch on the news, bad things happen. Global warming, the war in Ukraine. I just want to say that if we keep living like this, we’ll be extinct one day,” he says. To put this into garments, he used some ideas and imagery of destructive holes and skeletons. Weaved into garments, he mixed this imagery with his very own punk aesthetic, to raise awareness. “I was also very inspired by a documentary called life on our planet, which also speaks about all these issues.”