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Learning Fashion in Antwerp

ANTWERP, BELGIUM -- Having a dream of being a great fashion designer is hardly enough for it to become true. What one needs to succeed in the field is very hard work and inspiring / inspired teachers. The problem is that art schools do not usually go in pair with strenuous practice. What is more, artists and people aspiring for the title in general are known to be mavericks. But wait a minute - what if we want to educate ourselves in the chosen field? Isn’t the school curriculum at variance with cultivating individuality? So what does one do, where does one go if one wants to become an influential fashion designer?

Rumor has it that the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, is the place to go. Its fame started in the mid ‘80s, when the so-called “Antwerp Six”: Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee (six Academy graduates) took the international fashion scene by storm by renting a truck and setting up a shop at London Fashion Week in 1987 (or 1986, or 1988, depending on whom you ask and which source you are reading). Not only did their London appearance put Belgium on the fashion map, it also positioned the Antwerp Academy as one of the world’s top fashion schools.

The Fashion Department of the Antwerp Academy sees fashion in the broadest sense of the word, as a form of expression of the emotions of our times. Clothing is supposed to reflect society or, adversely, question it. The school perceives fashion designers as committed people who question the prevailing concepts of ethics and aesthetics and take a stand for or against them.

The training provided by the Belgian academy stimulates innovation. Above all, it is aimed at encouraging students to create and to explore innovative forms and original treatments of materials. This approach is focused on improvisation and formal innovation. Over 130 students are given a unique opportunity to experiment - is there a better way to learn? It’s great skills combined with hard, hard work over the course of studies that makes the Royal Academy graduates so desired by the top fashion houses.

One can say though that none of the “Antwerp Six” has created a global brand to rival Chanel or Yves Saint-Laurent. How can it be then, that the school is so prestigious? The answer is that none of them have really aimed for that in the first place. They keep their businesses small and focused, so that every piece they create has the designer’s mark on it (as seen in photos 1 – 2).

Although the fame of the Antwerp Academy is great and every aspiring designer with his/her head screwed on will try to get in, one should note, that it is also famous for the huge number of drop-out students who simply cannot take the school’s fast pace and the labor-intensive study it requires.

Photos courtesy of Damian Ross