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For many years, fashion revolved solely around luxury houses such as Chanel and Gucci, leaving little room for anybody outside of France and Italy a chance at mainstream success. As a result, the aesthetic of the catwalk shows in the middle of the 20th century, although all decadent and undeniably gorgeous, somewhat repetitive.
The “Antwerp Six” refers to a collection of six (not seven, as is frequently stated) designers that all graduated from the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts in the year 1980-1981. All young, talented and hard-working, they were the first group of designers to introduce any real ground-breaking experimental ideas into the world of commercial fashion.
Although the group worked tirelessly throughout the 1980s to produce consistently ground-breaking collections, it was not until the group rented a truck and headed straight for the London Fashion Fair in 1988 that the movement truly gained momentum.
Perhaps the most well-known of the six designers, Dries Van Noten started with a cult following and has slowly expanded his profile, starting his own eponymous label in 2005 and going on to win several awards, as well as dressing women such as Cate Blanchett for the Academy Awards. The rest of the group consists of Dirk Van Saene, Marina Yee, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter van Beirendonck and Ann Demeulemeester, who were responsible for the new wave of experimental designers that came up throughout the 1990s. Their aesthetic was significantly different to the luxury houses that were dominating the fashion scene – several of the six produced heavily conceptual collections with an emphasis on the dark side. As a result, many of the early shows produced by the Six have gone on to be described as “funereal” and “gothic” – a trend which, thanks to designers such as Nicola Formichetti and Riccardo Tisci, is more prominent than ever in the sphere of modern fashion.
The group were also renowned for focussing on more streamlined silhouettes, placing an emphasis on simplicity as opposed to luxury. Many early pieces were almost clinical in their aesthetic and deceptively simple in their construction – a radical move at the time considering the huge “logo culture” that brands such as Louis Vuitton and Prada had established in the 1990s. More than anything, the Antwerp Six was highly responsible for placing the spotlight on Antwerp as a city and broadening the minds of the general public.
The fact that many of the members originally came from an art background meant that they took a different perspective to fashion design, often using obscure references to marry the worlds of art and design in a way which hadn’t previously been done. In essence, the group helped establish fashion as an art form as opposed to a commercial product, helping the fashion industry to regain the respect of many of its critics. Although designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo carried a huge influence, the Antwerp Six were undoubtedly the main sources of inspiration for many of fashion’s major players, and changed the landscape of fashion as we know it.
By Jacob Hall
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham