Antwerp fashion has often been linked with the idea of the avant-garde and a taste for provocation, as well as a refusal of the status quo. That spirit was very much alive during the show delivered by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts last weekend. Many collections were defined by their subversive appeal, as well as references to the 1990s and the 1970s, two decades famous for their social protest, sexual emancipation and extreme clothing. On the one hand, the runway was a stage for gender fluidity, personal expression and a desire for equality between the sexes, which referred directly to the “Me” decade. On the other, cross-dressers, electro hedonism and fetish-inspired clothes took us back to the risque frisson of the 1990s, and it was logical to see the students gravitate between those two spheres.
The 4th and final Year is the moment when graduates have a chance to shine, combining the strength of their inspiration with their technical abilities. 4 collections stood out, due to their precision and confident point of view.
Maximilian Rittler’s “Rock Me Amadeus” was a brilliant tribute to the spirit of rock-n-roll, which the graduate fused with an interest in the Baroque and the 18th century. Recreating stripes with zippers -and using animal print to striking effect- the Austrian walked away with the Christine Mathys prize, awarded by Dries Van Noten himself.
Nick Haemels’ “Between the Colored Lines” brought Mondrian’s architectural paintings to mind, as well as Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings. Haemels crafted beautiful men’s garments, which were making a powerful statement, while remaining surprisingly wearable.
Nel Maertens’ “Arts with Benefits” played with the idea of art in fashion through the use of painting. Collaborating with two young artists from Ghent, Maertens was looking for ways to bring the human touch into clothes, from buying knitwear yarns that were dyed by hand to reinterpreting fashion ads and iconic images with the painter’s bursh. If some of his painted accessories had a naive quality to them, they also featured powerful slogans or political situations, which reflected a critical stance towards the industry.
Representation was also key within Quinten Mestdagh’s collection, focusing on refined and dramatic womenswear clothes, which were strong and charismatic. Naming his presentation “Default by Bliss”, the Belgian graduate paired medieval aesthetics with portraits of royalty and a pixelated Kate Moss. Mestdagh’s work may also have been a comment on our obsession with celebrity culture, reinforced by our daily use of social media. With religious and social tension growing across Europe, as well as conservatism spreading around the globe, it was tempting to think that his nod to the Middle Ages was not an innocent gesture.