Dive into the research and inspirations behind this year's Antwerp graduate collections
Artistic works such as collections of fashion designers are often based on much deeper meanings than the materials they are made of. The garments and accessories made always carry a whole universe worth of ideas and inspirations. Sadly, at catwalk shows and presentations we can only grasp the exterior designs and details, without understanding the thought-processes that lay behind the work.
That was the very reason we wanted to look at the designers’ sketchbooks and learn about each graduate’s journey towards their final pieces. Some have reached out far for inspiration others drew it all from their very doorsteps: from exosexuality to the Sicilian mafia, from 70s male erotica to WWI military camouflage, the collections are based on an outstanding diversity of ideas and experiences, more than enough to get yourself inspired and seeing creative potential in everything around you.
Inspired by the life and death of Rita Atria (a 17-year-old girl who witnessed against her mafia family), Palermo-born Federica created a collection that explores the dualism of Sicily. On the one hand, the collection investigates the darker history of Sicily where a teenager fought against a brutal and unfair system, giving up her family and eventually her life for justice. On the other, it is a story of what Sicily means to Federica personally and how many of us see it as a paradise notwithstanding its sinister past.
How did she go about working with a theme so personal? “It’s like being a team of ten people in just one person.” Researching works of artists such as Daniel Arsham, Renato Guttuso and Letizia Battaglia, meticulously documenting every fact, experimenting with fabrics, digitizing paintings into prints and reflecting the stories in the clothes is what Federica’s creative process is all about.
The typical look of a Sicilian fisherman can be spotted throughout Federica’s work. Every detail carries a deeper meaning. The use of nylon and PVC refers to the jumpers and plastic aprons Sicilian fishermen would wear. The faceless women portrayed covering their eyes, mouth, and ears are in reference to the notorious code of silence that all women related to the mafia had to hold to stay protected. Finally, the carduus flower which is, in turn, an homage to Federica’s childhood and what Sicily means to her, “a beautiful place where many ugly things happened.”
“We’re always inspired by all human expression of true beauty through clothes, throughout time and space.” Noa and Elijah’s collection, titled , started off with the Ethiopian Mursi tribe and tailoring from the 1920s.
The duo is in a constant search of what contemporary dressing means to them and their quest doesn not stop here, the initial idea for continuously evolved through the materials picked up by the designers, the techniques used in making prototypes, initial patterns and detailing.
Noa and Elijah are not only inspired by fashion but literature as well, particularly “Yallah” by Peter W. Haeberlin, “Romeu, my deer” by Berlinde De Bruyckere, “Agrimiká – Why Look At Animals?”
features animal fur and leather presented from a novel perspective. “When a leather jacket is typically made in a traditional way, the process of cutting and finishing removes and dehumanises so many of the elements of the original animals that the garment is created from. We wanted to create pieces that preserved the animals as much as possible in their original state.”
The collection balances the rough and brutal elements with more refined art deco period silks and velvets. “The way of cutting our pieces is always the focus, as we are always focused on a sense of refinement which balances some of the chaotic elements of our work.”
“This collection presents shameless body-conscious clothing for women who don’t believe in censorship but believe in power-dressing.” Shiny latex, revealing swimwear and sharply tailored suits riddled by bullets are just some of the many provocative details in Kjell’s latest collection.
“What I focussed on more than ever during this process is myself and my own creative needs.” Instead of researching other artists and reflecting their work in the collection, Kjell took most of his inspiration from observing women around him. Looking at what and how women wore clothes, what made them feel sexy and powerful, was a major part of the creative process. Besides focusing on making women feel empowered in his clothes, Kjell made sure that anyone who tried them on felt unrestrained and comfortable.
One of the challenges creating the collection were tight schedules, multiple coinciding businesses and creative collaborations that were fruitful nonetheless. “Dealing with several businesses and creative collaborations at the same time requires a tight agenda and good communication. After the experience of designing and producing my master collection I can say that I got a lot sharper when it comes to doing good business within the fashion industry.”
Penis pants, gender-ambiguous blazers, hand-drawn prints, chains, and jewels ‒ they can all be found in Predrag’s collection PULS ASFALTA.
“I always work autobiographically. I like to paint a lot, make collages digitally, research then later on the collection creates itself.” Originally from Serbia, Predrag expresses his heritage and the influence of Serbian pop culture in his work.
“Vidimo se u čitulji”, which translates to “I’ll see you in the obituary” in Serbian, is a cult documentary Predgrad was inspired by, epitomising the vibe of the 90s and Belgrade’s notorious underground crime scene.
Undoubtedly, the decade was a turbulent one throughout Eastern Europe. With new found freedom, coupled with high crime rates, the show business and entertainment industry rose to the next level. TV PINK, a music channel, became an inextricable part of the pop culture, showing mostly folklore singers lip-syncing at endless concerts and over the top music videos saturated with gold cars and women. This too has played a major role in the creation of PULS ASFALTA.
Central to the collection is the flamboyant criminal, who loves to wear Nike socks, expensive jewels, and chains. “It’s about how people perceive wealth and class in Eastern Europe as opposed to the West.”
Rarely inspired by fashion, Stefan draws his inspiration from the places and spaces in the history of Eastern Europe, especially Bulgaria. “You’ll see ads for fortune-tellers or religious services everywhere and the graphics are quite amusing because of their lower quality image resolution and brightly coloured typography. I also played around with irony.”
Ambivalence contains pieces that are a combination of biker silhouettes, ice skating uniforms and experimental detailing. “It’s a mash-up of things, that’s how I do it.”
Despite the collection being based on personal experiences and the designer’s home country, the process of creating it has not been without challenges: “I kept changing things, I didn’t work through sketches, I didn’t know what the result would be, so it was very stressful.”
Ambivalence is not only about the clothes, but it is also a product of skillful collaboration. Stefan has collaborated with other creatives from Manchester and Antwerp to develop a highly curated and detailed show, to go along with the collection, with 3D sound effects and dramatic lighting that pulled people into a different otherworldly space.
Images Zlatimir Arakliev Graphics Sam Rolfes
Turning shyness into a strength, Michal Gruca’s latest collection Your hands are sweaty has its foundation in a surprising range of sources. “As I’m quite shy I decided to work with that ‒ with social anxiety, wanting to ‘disappear’ in social situations. That’s why I researched military camouflage and in particular dazzle camouflage from the ships during World War I and II. They consisted of very abstract, graphic patterns and their goal was to confuse the opponent.”
Over time, through a combined influence of Susana Allen Hunter’s quilts and vintage homoerotic photographs from the ’70s, the shyness completely disappeared giving way for other ideas to come together. Fusing all these elements Michal has succeeded to convey the character of his collection, that of “a sexy and cheeky, but at the same time fragile and innocent” boy.