Representing the creative future

The politics of glam with Antwerp student Kjell de Meersman

"Fashion is a reflection of today’s society but fashion is also a way to escape this society."

Kjell de Meersman likes things “fast, sharp and shiny.” In June, the 22-year-old Antwerp student presented his third year BA collection based on six of his personal party alter egos. Silver coats, python leather and chain accessories were part of the nightlife-inspired world, but don’t be mistaken in thinking that his work is nothing but superficial glitz and glamour, the meaning behind it runs deeper than that…

What was the main inspiration behind your collection?

Last summer, I visited the “Energy Flash – The Rave Movement” exhibition at the M HKA in Antwerp, where I learned about Alexandra Domanovic.

During the 90’s, widespread internet use came on the heels of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe. Routes of global commerce multiplied parallel to the speed of information. From today’s standpoint, a world where capitalism and socialism coexist is associated with rhythms of life defined by slower forms of media. Alexandra Domanovic considers this condition through her own experience and the history of her native Yugoslavia in “19:30”. The title comes from the time slot of the Yugoslav nightly news, when the whole country would take time to view the broadcast.

Around 1995, techno became popular in the former Yugoslavia (a bit later than it did in the rest of the world, due in part to the international isolation and the warring republics) and young people crossed the new borders to attend parties and dance to wordless, repetitive techno – a musical genre free of national associations. When information can be accessed at any time, the nightly news loses the power to create a simultaneous, shared experience for a multitude of people. But a live event like a rave, still holds that power. “19:30” is an attempt to reconcile past and present. Domanovic traveled around former Yugoslavia to collect archival footage used in news casts. She reached out to techno DJ’s and produced a series of tracks using news samples. Through remixing and live performance, the old melodies become free, like bodies given over to dance.

How did this research relate to your collection?

Researching deeper into techno culture and its origins made me realise more than ever how important nightlife is for me and my creative process. The amount of energy, love and endless inspiration that I am exposed to in my nightlife is stronger than any source of information I was ever exposed to. It is this unique feeling that I translated into a collection existing out of 8 characters that represent my alter-egos inside of my own nightlife.

What techniques did you focus on?

I really put the focus on the cut of the pieces in this collection. Quality was something that I really wanted to achieve in every single piece. I made several wool coats and blazers, but the part that I enjoyed the most was the making and designing of the leather pieces. The amount of energy and skill that is needed to create a high quality leather garment is impressive. I learned so much about leather and how to treat during the making of this collection. I worked on a full horse leather suit, a leather fringe jacket, some coats and trousers and of course, shoes and handbags that are made out of fine leathers that I collected in Holland, Belgium and France.

What was most important to you working towards the final result?

The most important to me will always be that I am having fun with what I am doing, whatever that may be. Towards the last days and weeks of school while working harder than ever to finish the collection I was having the most fun. As soon as I figured it all out in my head, it was up to me to put my ideas into reality, and this was of course the most exciting part. Finding the right ways to style my pieces and looks is always the best part since you really see everything coming together.

Last year, you quit school for a year and designed a collection for Post-Couture. What did you learn from this experience? Would you advice other students to take time for themselves as well?

After finishing my second year at the academy, I was full of energy and my motivation was higher than ever. I had just finished a very inspiring year full of challenges and meeting new people. I decided to take some more time for myself and think about what the next step for me would be. First I interned for six months at A.F. Vandevorst where I was working in a very small team as a design assistant during one complete season. This was my first work experience in the industry and at this time I felt the need to explore the industry further from a professional point of view. Discovering all the different aspects and needs inside a fashion house gave me a more clear view of what I need to focus on in order to become the best creative individual that I can be.

What was your biggest challenge last year? How did you overcome it?

I like things fast, sharp and shiny. But in order to create something that lines up perfectly with my expectations I needed to learn how to be more patient and calm. During the design process I am unstoppable, having the chance to create a visual world and translating it into clothing makes me feel very powerful. There is nothing that I enjoy more than creating a vision in my head. Thinking about shapes, materials, styling, casting,… is making me feel like a true creator and I love researching into my own archives and others. After this ‘dreamy’ part as i like to call it, its time for the technical part that of course plays a big roll when it comes to creating a collection, and this is where I had to take a few steps back from time to time, slow down and make sure not to loose my eye for quality, sometimes it does take another fitting to get the cut and fit of a piece just right.

Is there anything you would do differently if you could do your year again?

I don’t really look back, since I’m not going that way. My past is done, so I tend to ‘forget’ it sometimes. My future is yet to come, so I keep dreaming about it every day. My present is now, so I’m living it with no regrets. I had a great year, met beautiful people and finished with pride, that for me is the most important.

From stalking you on Facebook, I know you’re very outspoken about politics. Do you find it hard sometimes to create within the current political climate? How does one relate to the other?

I am a very outspoken person in general, but I have to mention that I became very aware of the power ones voice can have when I started meeting some of my closest friends here in Antwerp that share the same values and moral as I do. That’s why I will never shy away and not speak up when I have something on my mind. I am convinced that every single one of us has the power to make a change wherever you want to make a difference. I don’t find it hard to create within the current political climate, because in the first place I am creating within my own world and that is a world where there is absolutely no place for any kind of discrimination or hatred. But of course, one cannot be ignorant and whenever I feel like I should use my fashion as a medium to express my thoughts on a current political of social state, I will do it. Do I find it necessary? Absolutely not. Fashion is a reflection of today’s society but fashion is also a way to escape this society. We all need a way to run away from reality every once and a while.

What would you like to do after your studies? Do you feel excited about entering “the real world?”

I want to travel the world and keep creating with the people that I love. I am not so focussed on this ‘real world’ that you mention, neither am I a fan of this ‘real world’. My goal is to continue creating my own world, figure out my own path and surround myself with beauty.