In an old warehouse on the bank of the Scheldt river, the 122 fashion students of the renowned Antwerp Royal Academy of Art showed their year-end work in a (somewhat numbing) four-hour runway show. Instructed by Walter Van Beirendonck, easily the rowdiest of the original Antwerp Six, the fourteen graduates showed no signs of fatigue, no doubt energized at the thought of being similarly discovered. Judging from the whoops and hollers that came from industry insiders and the Belgian public alike, we think they have an excellent chance of it. The fashion world could certainly use another Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester or, more recently, Kris Van Assche, Dior Homme's new designer.
Another former student, Bruno Pieters was among the most buzzed-about attendees with his recent announcement that he'll resign as teacher at the academy to concentrate on his new job as creative director at Hugo Boss, as well as his own women's and men's label—but not before a going-away party of sorts. We bumped into him on the third day, his eyes covered with sunglasses. “I haven't seen my bed,” he admitted in a hushed voice still hoarse from a party he threw at his apartment the night before.
The jurors were a familiar bunch that included Linda Loppa, the school's former course director, who now works as the dean of Polimoda fashion school in Florence; Parisian corsetier Mr. Pearl; designer and alumna Véronique Branquinho; make-up artist Inge Grognard; Barbara Franchin, director of Italian talent agency Eve; and Kuki de Salvertes, the French publicist whose PR firm in Paris, Totem, specializes in Belgian talent.
And talent the graduating class delivered once again. Marc Philippe Coudeyre sent out a gloriously baroque womenswear collection that was as bold and dark as it was meticulous and couture-like. Fabrics from brocade to neoprene were nicely draped as dresses or courageously ruffled as short capes. Although the style has been a regular on the runways in Paris, the French native's gift is undeniable.
We were also enchanted by Taro Horiuchi's ethereal and futuristic men's collection, called Ancient Plastic. His delicately detailed pieces came in bright whites, soft grays, transparent neoprene (a clear winner this year) and sheer gold. The plissé men's skirts recalled Olivier Theyskens' flowy women's creations for Nina Ricci.
Another favorite was the gray and burgundy men's collection from Gunhyo Kim, a South Korean with an amazing cutting technique that could be seen, for example, in a suit resembling a flag. His refreshing approach is to slim down a silhouette rather than build it up.
Raul Egloff Alcaide chose ancient Greece and its boy-love reputation as his inspiration. The collection told the story of innocence—in, say, ruffled boxers—slowly giving way to a harsher reality, in leather and, again, neoprene.
Finally, thumbs up for two unique, if opposing, visions. Lenny Leleu delivered sexy yet inventively frivolous bathing suits, while conceptualist Andrea Ayala Closa opted for faceless models in simple, but finely crafted black outfits with spooky appliquéd hands. We had the impression she wanted to tell the story of the working class, people whose identities are often unknown. She was, perhaps, the one who best captured the philosophical and moody approach to fashion for which the Antwerp Academy—and, through it, Belgian design—is so acclaimed.