Wal­ter Van Beiren­don­ck: My clothes are more of a state of mind’”

The visionary Belgian designer has been pushing the boundaries of creativity since the early ‘80s. Today, he reissues some of the most iconic pieces from his archive.

Wal­ter Van Beiren­don­ck has been push­ing the bound­aries of cre­ativ­i­ty since the ear­ly 80s. As an orig­i­nal mem­ber of the Antwerp Six, the vision­ary Bel­gian design­er is as renowned for his out­sider sta­tus as he is for his abil­i­ty to sub­vert the norms of fash­ion via his high­ly con­sid­ered explo­ration of gen­der bound­aries and his knack for com­ment­ing on the cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate via the bold graph­ics, shouty slo­gans and wild­ly unique designs found in his work.

A Van Beiren­don­ck col­lec­tion is as play­ful as it is pow­er­ful. For his AW95 Par­adise Plea­sure Pro­duc­tions” col­lec­tion he send men pea­cock­ing down the run­way clad in mus­cle-tight latex fetish suits that could be unzipped from the crotch to the head (immor­talised by the lens of Jean-Bap­tiste Mondi­no), for his SS97 Wel­come Lit­tle Stranger” col­lec­tion he explored sci­ence fic­tion and the super­nat­ur­al, pre­sent­ing his future vision for the human race, and for his phal­lo­cen­tric SS08 Sex­clown” col­lec­tion he sent a penis hats down the run­way as part of an avant-garde inter­pre­ta­tion of mas­culin­i­ty. Now a neces­si­ty in today’s world, each of his col­lec­tions pro­voked the estab­lish­ment in a way that was rarely seen at the time and it’s some­thing Van Beiren­don­ck con­tin­ues to do today. 

Most recent­ly, the design­er has joined forces with House of Liza founder Gonça­lo Velosa and Far­fetch to reis­sue a care­ful­ly curat­ed edit of sig­na­ture pieces from the Wal­ter Van Beiren­don­ck archive, span­ning 1990 to 2018. Act­ing as some­thing of a time cap­sule of the designer’s exten­sive body of work, the col­lab­o­ra­tive edit fea­tures some of his most icon­ic bound­ary push­ing wears cre­at­ed over the past 33 years, from the show­stop­ping decon­struct­ed bomber from the The Big Bang” col­lec­tion in 199091, and a pair of bespoke trousers cre­at­ed from an inter­link­ing hud­dle of Wal­ter’ toys from his 200304 Pix­idust” col­lec­tion, to a tai­lored jack­et with three-dimen­sion­al applique effects from his afore­men­tioned Sex­clown” col­lec­tion. All of which are pho­tographed on Van Beirendonck‘s stu­dents at the Antwerp Acad­e­my. Here, Van Beiren­don­ck dis­cuss­es the super­nat­ur­al, new-gen tal­ent, and his out­sider status.

Look­ing back, which pieces from your archive are you drawn to most?

It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion, as all of the pieces are rather pre­cious to me. But the pieces with a lot of mem­o­ries are the ones I am drawn to the most. It can be the pieces that were tech­ni­cal­ly very dif­fi­cult to make, like the Blow-Up” jack­ets, which are now in the Met. Or the col­lec­tions with very few looks, like the Rev­o­lu­tion” col­lec­tion — all of the pieces end­ed up in muse­um col­lec­tions. Or pieces that were realised togeth­er with Bernard Wil­helm, Raf Simons, and Craig Green when they were intern­ing with me: the fluro-yel­low sarouel that I made with Bernard. The Big bang” col­lec­tion with the fake per­fume bot­tle which I made with Raf. The paper dress with the Ride The Bear” print, which I made with Craig. I have hun­dreds of these mem­o­ries! Going through the archive pieces is always a trip down mem­o­ry lane, which I enjoy a lot.

It has been 20 years since your King Kong Kooks zine, what can car­toon Wal­ter be found doing now?

Not so much has changed in my head since then. I’m still telling sto­ries, mak­ing up char­ac­ters, and I’m still an out­sider in the fash­ion world. A posi­tion I’m proud of and which I cherish.

What is it that fas­ci­nates you about the supernatural?

I do believe in alien life, in spir­i­tu­al lev­els and dimen­sions. Not in a reli­gious way, but more in an adven­tur­ous way. It would be great to know and expe­ri­ence that oth­er civil­i­sa­tions are some­where out there.

Is there a par­tic­u­lar per­son that best rep­re­sents your aes­thet­ic, or has done over the years?

I have realised that it’s a very spe­cif­ic, but uni­ver­sal aes­thet­ic. Some like it a lot and some hate it, but it suits a lot of dif­fer­ent ages, cul­tures, body types and types of human, which makes me proud and hap­py. My clothes are more of a state of mind’. Diver­si­ty and gen­der flu­id­i­ty were impor­tant top­ics in my col­lec­tions from the very beginning.

What’s your take on beau­ty in 2019?

I do like bru­tal beau­ty, but unseen and fresh approach­es. A type of beau­ty which is best reflect­ing our time and moment. Aes­thet­ics and beau­ty are extreme­ly impor­tant for me, so I’m not real­ly impressed by design­ers that are pure­ly re-using aes­thet­ics from pre­vi­ous eras of fash­ion. I’m con­stant­ly search­ing for new fresh ideas which can rep­re­sent the moment and soci­ety we live in.

Which young design­ers on the Bel­gian fash­ion scene are you impressed with right now?

Rushe­my Bot­ter, who grad­u­at­ed recent­ly in Antwerp, launched his own line right after grad­u­at­ing, and is now head design­er for Nina Ricci.

Last­ly, if Puk Puk is from the plan­et Dork, what plan­et are you from?

I recent­ly spent some time on plan­et Wit­blitZ, meet­ing up with friends like: O-ARM, RAKETKANON, WOE­MA, ORAOETAN, SKAT­TE­BOL, FLITST­WINS, WAW­IELORE… and the result of that vis­it is a new project’ called ALIEN VIN­TAGE-final­ly avail­able on earth!” Curi­ous? Dis­cov­er it in my SS20 collection.

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