European Fashion Schools: Antwerp Royal Academy

When doing a series on the six most significant European fashion schools, it feels like a given to mention the school that gave birth to The Antwerp Six. Famous for the many creative talents that have left the building, the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts is evidently not new to the pages of The Blogazine. Despite its many appearances, we figured another review of the Belgian magic couldn’t hurt – for what is it in an education that calls forth a certain number of celebrated and legendary names?

Looking at the history, the school’s (fashion) popularity started in the early 80’s when the fashion department resided under the wings of Mary Prijot, and it was during that time when names like Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela were formed to skilled designers. Today’s Head of the Fashion Department, Walter Van Beirendonck, also attended the school during this hot 80’s period, and by the looks of it, he has carried some of the past into the future.

As in most academic educations a subject is looked at from the perspective of the society, and so also in Antwerp. Clothing is not only about the quality of fabrics, cuts and seams but also reflects on where the society is moving, and questions it. Not putting the creative quality aspect aside, The Royal Academy of Fine Arts provides their students with a creative artistic atmosphere: during four years the fashion students also share the halls with painters, sculptors and graphic designers and looking at the outcome they all seem to influence each other. The students at the academy are though always encouraged to find their own voice and not to mimic what their predecessors already did, as innovation and experimentation are two highly valued aspects. Surely many students choose Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts as their destination of education for the fame that lingers in the school halls, just like many probably are attracted by the fact that it’s here that known concepts are being turned 360° and back again. What regards the school’s location, Antwerpen feels near, yet so far from the rest of the industry, that it seems like the set-apart position on the map could entice as well as discourage future applicants. Whether it’s the name of the school, the name of previous graduates, the creative atmosphere or the city, it only seems natural that the younger generation of Antwerpian designers would channel what foregoes them and keep on bringing the academy forth.

Maybe it lies in the strong focus on innovative creativity or maybe Mary Prijot’s 80’s blueprint for the fashion department set the standard – whichever the case, the Artesis Hogeschool Antwerpen has been one to watch over the last 30 years, and an uncrazy guess is that it will remain on the same list for another upcoming 30.

Lisa Olsson Hjerpe – Image courtesy of Boy Kortekaas & The Royal Academy of Fine Arts 
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Antwerp SHOW2012

Antwerp SHOW2012

Founded in 1663, the oldest of its kind in Europe and the starting point for Martin Margiela, Haider Ackermann, Peter Pilotto, Dries van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester (the two last-mentioned also being part of the far-famed Antwerp Six) among others, the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts is a school with a resourceful fashion department where creativity comes first. 7 – 9th of June it was time for SHOW2012, the final runway for the eleven Master Students about to graduate.

Outside of the trend hub where eventful glamour is represented in addition to the actual fashion, Antwerp is a city with its own profile. Fashion people are seen as individuals interested in the society and ethical issues aside from the aesthetics, and fashion is to be seen in the largest of senses. Maureen De Clercq, teacher in fashion design at the Academy, says that “the atmosphere is creative, dynamic and has a lot of energy”. The industry people come to the city to see the final runway shows, to be surrounded by and to be a part of that feeling.

As a school, the Academy focuses a lot on experimentation, improvisation and innovation, as well as on the creative talent and the students’ ability to express themselves through their drawings. As the viewer has to be kept interested and the media pushes out new trends, these focal points are to foster future designers to see above previous horizons and turn well-known concepts in their heads. Located near the industry but somehow isolated from the fashion hysteria, Antwerp and the Royal Academy with its students seem to have found their own rhythm within the industry, mediating a pragmatic calm where the explosive details are within the arts – which are blooming.

The SHOW2012 collections had extravagant details, often leaving conventional to the side. Through the presentations the collections called to evoke emotions and express something outside the garments. The graduates showcased their work by presenting the abilities of creativity, detailing and innovative techniques, before being thrown into the “real world”. With Antwerp’s resume and history in mind one can expect to come across the graduate names again – behind the name of a fashion house, scaled down or in their full blossom of extremity.

See a complete runway video from SHOW2012 here.

Lisa Olsson Hjerpe

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