You do seem to have arrived at a moment in Paris where there’s more space for young designers. You are often associated to this new generation of Parisian designers bringing youth back to the city. Do you feel this as well?
The Paris fashion week has always been one of the best ones in the world. Brands like Céline and Vuitton are obviously amazingly beautiful houses with amazingly interesting creative directors, and Paris is saturated with them. It’s true that, since it’s so saturated, there’s not that much time or energy to put into young designers. Journalists and buyers end their fashion week marathon in Paris. They enjoy ending on this high of luxurious, and consistent, collections. There’s no surprises, it’s always good. Then there was this Vetements phenomenon, which broke everything open. This definitely brings attention to the fact that Paris could be something more than just established houses. These young designers have always been there, we just have the spotlight now. Everybody is talking about this new wave, and I’m very blessed to be part of it.
Talking about cities, let’s go back to Antwerp, where you studied. The school is such an explosive source of international talent, but it’s based in this small town. Coming from Antwerp, do you still feel connected to this community?
I graduated in 2008 and I really enjoyed my studies there. As you say, it’s a provincial town. There’s a bit of art and a night life, but in very small doses. It’s a very safe and calm place to be. The academy is an island filled with extravagant people, each of them crazier than the other. You work together, live together, and for four years you’re practically in a sect. This is not bad, because you inspire each other.
The other thing which was amazing in my time, is that everyone in my year was very different, and each of us had a very different story. We made it a statement to be as different as possible. The point is that people won’t confront you with your classmates, they can’t make parallels between you because you really focus on your individuality. What happens however, is that you create very individual people, who have a very individual way of working and communicating, so once we leave the school, most of us have a very independent story. We keep contact of course, but we don’t continue working together.
“WE MADE IT A STATEMENT TO BE AS DIFFERENT AS POSSIBLE.”
Talking about competition between students, did you ever feel this towards previous students? So many legendary designers came from Antwerp. Was that ever overshadowing or stressful?
Antwerp is a school which has a lot of history and a lot of crazy good designers, so obviously, you want to be like them. Antwerp also has a dropout system, which means that you start with eighty students and every year people quit until you end up with a small group. In the beginning, you’re very stressed by that and you try to understand the reasons why certain people pass and certain people fail. You can become obsessed with the work of your predecessors. The trick is, the moment you let go of that, is the moment you succeed in Antwerp. Trying to copy someone else’s work strategy is just too time-consuming and it takes so much energy.
What’s your creative process like?
Honestly, we really don’t care about what the mainstream opinion is. We take any reference we feel like using at the moment, historic or ethnic, and the only question we ask ourselves is whether we’re not taking it too far. We might understand it, because we’re in the process of making it, but will an outsider understand it in the same way? We want to be a brand that raises questions, but as we often play with the codes of good and bad taste, you have to make sure you don’t cross the border too far. We work hard, we respect our work and we want people to feel that. There’s a lot of humour of course, and a lot of winks left and right.
I wanted to talk to you about taste. You like to flirt with those boundaries. How do you make sure you do not take it too far?
Indeed, anything can be high or low taste, it all depends on the attitude. Once you understand this, you free yourself from a lot of boundaries. Nothing is really tasteless or tasteful, it all depends on how you put the spotlight on it. I’m always attracted to things that aren’t necessarily nice. I had a very classic upbringing, in a bourgeois small city, where everything is perfectly in balance. I was obsessed with classic Western beauty for a very long time. When I was younger, I was always looking to replicate those codes. At a certain point, I understood them and so I wanted something that challenged me more. Fake fur and velvet aren’t appealing, so I like to question myself – why isn’t it and how can I transform it into something beautiful?