The Antwerp Six: Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela and other Belgian fashion designers you need to know
Fashion

Rousing Renaissance

Recalling the glorious creative era of the Antwerp Six, two Belgians are once again running today’s fashion scene at an unprecedented scale
Reading time 3 minutes

Walter Van Beirendonck. Ann Demeulemeester. Dries Van Noten. Dirk Van Saene. Dirk Bikkembergs. Marina Yee. In the chaotic climate of the 1980s, the legendary sextet dubbed the Antwerp Six – Martin Margiela was an unofficial 7th member – turned fashion on its head with radical designs. Their experimental sensibilities paved the way for future generations of designers and gave hope to those outside of fashion capital radars to make it big internationally.

While history has not exactly repeated itself, it certainly seems like a new wave of Belgian – or Belgium-educated – designers are shaking up the scene once again. Think Georgian designer and, like the Antwerp Six, an alumnus of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts Demna Gvasalia, who is making waves with his work at Vetements and Balenciaga. Then there’s Raf Simons at Calvin Klein and Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent, two designers heading global brands that are growing faster than ever. 

Simons, the Chief Creative Officer at Calvin Klein, oversees all aspects of design, marketing, communications and visuals at the American fashion behemoth, which has lines dedicated to ready-to-wear, casualwear, sportswear, swimwear, underwear, footwear, eyewear, jeans, accessories, home furnishings and furniture, hosiery, socks, fragrances and watches, among others. So massive is the company’s structure that the move to appoint Pieter Mulier (another Belgian, and Simons’ right-hand man when he was at Dior) as Creative Director to oversee the most fashion-centric lines – clothing and accessories – is a logical and strategic one.

The duo’s office at Calvin Klein has weightier significance that just being a re-appointment: they will need to stand up to the challenge of bringing convincing relevance to a stagnating brand. It’s the perfect chance for “outsiders” to redefine America. To aid them in this endeavour, they’ve chosen fellow Flemish creatives and frequent collaborators photographer Willy Vanderperre and stylist Olivier Rizzo (known for their fresh work with Prada) to execute their ad campaigns with unexpected, minimalist imagery – the perfect pair to coolly align a by-appointment service (what the brand terms “bespoke couture”), or artists Sterling Ruby and Richard Prince with a brand otherwise known for its ’90s underwear ads.

Similarly, Saint Laurent is now a billion-dollar-generating brand, making it the second largest fashion house under the Kering group. Rebranded by maverick Hedi Slimane, the company more than doubled its revenue during his three-year tenure, setting an even larger stage for Italian-Belgian Anthony Vaccarello to take over. While the La Cambre-graduate isn’t doing any major rehashing, we do notice a considerable change in what the Parisian label represents. While Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane was synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello holds a cleaner, more low-key aesthetic, making it appealing to an even more diverse pool of women. In this sense, it’s similar to Simons’ Calvin Klein. 

Two major players, so much being brought to the table. This is just the (new) beginning for the Belgians. Watch this space.

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