The Antwerp Six share some tips for fashion students

Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and the rest of the cult fashion collective have come together for a rare glimpse into their rise to glory

In 1986, a group of graduates from the Royal Belgian Academy of Fine Arts jumped into a van and headed to a crucial trade show in London, where they would cause a stir with their radical, avant-garde collections and would carve out their own niche in fashion. the story. This group of young designers, consisting of Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee, became known as the Antwerp Six – in part, according to the story, because as the press struggled to pronounce their individual names.

After London, the group continued to travel the world together, reaching other fashion hotspots beyond the Belgian border. Over time, and as their respective careers blossomed, however, they naturally drifted apart. “Dirk Bikkembergs only did menswear, so he had to split up to do the men’s show; Dries needed a bigger show because he was booming, and so the whole band split up,” Antwerp Six mastermind Geert Bruloot recalled in 2015. “It felt like a pop group was breaking up.

Now, however, five of the Antwerp Six have gathered for a rare reunion, marking the retirementno Van Beirendonck from her position as head of the Academy’s fashion department. Luckily for us, they also took the opportunity to share some tips in an interview with fashion companydiscuss how to succeed in the industry and how to handle the pressure and stay true to yourself once you’re in it.

REBEL AGAINST YOUR TEACHERS

Looking back on the band’s years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Ann Demeulemeester remembers studying with the stern Fashion Academy founder, Mary Prijot. “She was very strict, but I liked that,” says the designer. “You really had to prove yourself. What’s more, it was very classic… It revolted me: I had to do my thing.

“That kind of thing created a sense of togetherness,” adds Van Noten. “In my opinion, we learned the most by rebelling against teachers, trying to figure out how far we could push the boundaries they set.” In other words, you don’t have to sit down and accept everything you’re told in fashion school as gospel truth; sometimes it’s better to step back and find your own way of doing things.

“YOU CAN’T SAY: MY WORKING DAY IS OVER”

It’s no secret that the workload on any prestigious fashion course can get quite intense. Unfortunately, it won’t end once the course is over, as Dries Van Noten points out. “The pressure at the Academy is nothing compared to the professional pressure once you start working. At the Academy, you are not responsible for the 150 people who work for you.

“I don’t think you can set limits to fashion,” confirms Walter Van Beirendonck. “Things are constantly happening that are beyond your control. And then you can’t say: my working day is over. You must continue until you have put things in order.

Don’t what are you going to do about it? Before investing, Van Noten recommends honestly asking yourself, “Could I handle this?” If you’ve already signed up, well, it’s your life now. Enjoy!

“Doing a good job is the start of everything. Once you’ve done that, you have to have faith that sooner or later it will find its way” – Ann Demeulemeester

NEVER TRY TO BE “FASHIONABLE”

“Never try to be ‘trendy’, but develop a personal style that you can always rely on and that doesn’t go out of style in no time”, recommends Dirk Van Saene.

That said, staying aware of the times you’re going through – and keeping an eye on the future – is also important. As Marina Yee notes, emerging designers must find a way to deal with major contemporary issues and the challenges of a changing world. “Maybe not a revolution, but a change towards better values ​​in our way of thinking and acting, for the climate, for all human beings, for peace.

EMBRACE THE MYSTERY

The Antwerp Six emerged in a pre-internet fashion world, when collections were simply presented on a catwalk and found a public audience months later, on the pages of a magazine. “You discovered winter fashion when it was really winter,” says Van Beirendonck. “It had a certain logic.” Now, of course, fashion has accelerated beyond our comprehension, and the internet has collapsed the trend cycle on itself.

“Everything is going too fast these days,” adds Van Saene. “We have to go back to the mystery that surrounded fashion.”

“What I would do these days, and what I’m trying to do now, is go smaller, consciously slow down, and offer a reduced collection,” says Yee. “Partly by recycling and creating a slow, quiet fashion.”

“Everything is going too fast these days. We have to get back to the mystery that surrounded fashion” – Dirk Van Saene

YOU MUST HAVE FAITH

Every member of the Antwerp Six, no matter how successful, grew up as an outsider in a city with no fashion history. Left to their own devices, it was their faith in the work they did and their dedication to their craft that earned them a place in the history books.

“Delivering good work is the start of everything,” suggests Demeulemeester. “Once you’ve done that, you have to have faith that sooner or later it will find its way.”

“Indeed, have confidence in yourself,” confirms Van Beirendonck. “I’ve always cherished the feeling of being an underdog. At some point, the way people saw me changed. It was replaced with deep respect from the press, buyers and fans.

Read all fashion company interview here.