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.