With knuckle-duster-rings adorning every finger, a ‘Mitchell brother’ thuggish hairdo and a girth which almost matches his height, Walter Van Beirendonck looks like a force not to be reckoned with. One of the legendary Antwerp six, Belgian designer Beirendonck has captured the hearts of avant-garde dressers for two decades, creating outlandish collections which makes Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons designs look plainer than Jane.
Beirendoncks’s A/W 2008/9 collection ‘Skin King’ explores his fetish for futuristic evolution and ‘Second Life’ by combining a mismatch of floral pussy bow blouses; pom-pom emblazoned snooded knits; kaleidoscopic-tailoring and garish metal headwear. Sure to be creating synaesthesia ridden pieces for niche-hungry dressers for years to come, Walter says he can only hope his visionary collections remain as renowned as they are today. It is without a doubt the time-line of fashion would be incomplete without his ‘from the heart’ contribution.
As the omnipresent figure of rave, softly-spoken Beirendonck said ‘Music and fashion will always have strong links’. The powerful connection began for him in the ‘70s when he first saw and heard David Bowie. ‘It was then, in my teenage years, that I realised how you can create and evolve identity through clothes’ . Bowie’s mercurial clothing, from one-arm spandex ensembles in the Ziggy years to the ankle-grazing Savile Row suits he wears nowadays, inspired Beirendonck to create chameleonic clothing which portrays the mood of the music he loves.
Beriendonck’s smiley’s which have become synonymous with nu rave and techno, was his first flirtation with music and designing. ‘The nu rave and techno kids liked my sense, my smileys’ and today his design ideas stem from his adoration of electro music, whilst inspiring a young generation of similar minded clothes connoisseurs such as Cassette Playa’s Carrie Mundane and Boston’s Pratt Institute graduate, Jeremy Scott.
As well as the task of keeping his label afloat, Beirendonck is the head of fashion at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts where he spends time teaching, motivating and fostering strong bonds with his students and interns. ‘We don’t try to train people in the same way,’ Walter says, ‘We try to motivate students from the 1st year to develop a signature style.’ Asked if has any favourite designers, Beirendonck is quick to support his protegees ‘Raf Simons who interned with me for 2 years. I always remain loyal to those closest, and I absolutely love what he is doing!’ He also says he has a lot of respect for German avant-garde designer Bernanrd Willhelm and anti-fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. He goes on to say ‘there are many designers I have no respect for, I don't have time for copycats.'
So forgive me for my first impressions: he’s the Shrek of Antwerp, a humble creative genius, he’s the wacky professor, Walter Van Beirendonck.