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Fashion and the ‘Antwerp Six’

An established part of the international fashion scene, Antwerp’s reputation today is closely tied to the impact of the so-called ‘Antwerp Six’. This group of talented designers, graduates of the Antwerp Academy from the years 1980 and 1981, brought the world’s attention to the inventive styles and impeccable craftsmanship of Belgium’s fashion industry. Trained by designer Linda Loppa, the original ‘Six’ are Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk Van Saene, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck and Marina Yee (replacing the almost reclusive Martin Margiela after his brief association with the group). Together, they staged fashion shows and events throughout the mid-80s. Their attempts to capture the attention of the international press and buyers famously included their unprecedented success at the 1988 London Fashion Week. It was this surprising event that placed Antwerp firmly on the map of the international fashion scene.

Despite their shared background in the fashion department of Antwerp’s Royal Academy, the styles of the six designers are distinctly varied. Whilst Van Noten’s scarves of exotic fabrics, beaded saris and dyed skirts are inspired by the traditional practices of countries such as India, Morocco and Egypt, Van Beirendonck’s bold graphics and daring designs are rooted in a futuristic concept of fashion that is both theatrical and challenging.

It is notable that the ‘Antwerp Six’ have largely chosen to remain in their hometown. Together with the next wave of innovative designers from the city’s Royal Academy, their work is located in Antwerp’s south and city centre rather than in the fashion scenes of Paris and New York. Anne Demeulemeester’s first freestanding boutique is found on the corner of Leopold de Waelplats, opposite the Museum of Fine Arts. It is a stark white shopping space in which mannequins are suspended from the ceiling on steel cables. Linking the city centre and the south, the Nationalestraat houses the his-and-her collections of Dries Van Noten, the designs of Dirk Van Saene, Bernhard Willhelm and Kostas Murkudis, and the avant-garde fashion of Mici de Merode. The up-and-coming designers Stephan Scneider and Anna Heylen are also within walking distance, at Reyndersstraat 53 and Lombardenvest 44 respectively.

The striking reputation of the ‘Antwerp Six’ is pivotal to the attention received each year by the graduation show of the fashion department of the Royal Academy. Held each year in June, the city welcomes a flock of international reporters, magazine editors and photographers expecting to find promising new talent. For many in the fashion world, Antwerp has become a strong rival to Brussels as Belgium’s capital city.

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