(c) Photography: Ronald Stoops
Photography: Ronald Stoops, Make-up: Inge Grognard
The theme Alien Spirits illustrates Van Beirendonck’s predilection for science fiction, the future, the supernatural and spirituality. Ethnography and alien life are both employed in much the same way. They are instruments that the designer allows into his work without inhibition and without prejudice or judgement, looking at the world anew and inviting his audience to do the same.

The Astral Travellers from the 1996 spring-summer collection stand in wonder, admiring the beauty of Planet Earth. The prints on their clothing form an anthology of the natural phenomena that they encounter during their visit to earth. For the Hi Sci Fi collection (springsummer
1999), Van Beirendonck produced a video about two aliens who come to earth and use their built-in prostheses to scan our world. In the world of Van Beirendonck, beings from outer space observe our world from a different perspective, often completely misinterpreting our behaviour and habits.

The alien in Welcome Little Stranger (spring-summer 1997) wears a wig of grass sod instead of a flower behind the ear. The models in Relics from the Future (spring-summer 2006) adorn themselves with jewellery still attached to black velvet cushions, not knowing that the cushions are merely used to present the jewellery. The collection is inspired by the mysterious Rapanui sculptures on Easter Island, which according to some were delivered there by spaceships. Embroidery adorning historically inspired jackets show a combination of UFOs and dinosaurs, history and the future. The articles of clothing have embroidered labels, including inventory numbers, as if these were pieces of art in a museum collection.
Walter Van Beirendonck’s engagement with both the present and the past in his clothing is ‘contaminated’ by the ‘remnants of the future’ in the form of text messages and computer graphics.

Walter Van Beirendonck is equally unprejudiced and knowingly ‘unaware’ as he looks at objects and rituals from ethnography. Just like the alien who is amazed by things that are mundane and perfectly normal to us, Van Beirendonck isolates certain motifs and symbols and introduces them into a radically different context: contemporary fashion. Here, it is Walter who puts himself in the position of ‘the Other’.

In his more recent work, the focus shifts from alien life to the supernatural and the spiritual. Since Cloudy Stars (autumn-winter 2004–05) and Supernatural (spring-summer 2005), his work clearly reveals interest in shamanism (the shaman as a mediator between mankind and the world of the spirits and ancestors), ethnic rituals that give us access to a different dimension and rites of initiation. He often borrows formal elements, such as the imposing shaman’s cape (Hand on Heart, autumn-winter 2011–12) and the way raffia is worked into the dolls and initiation masks of the Tshokwe and Pende peoples (Democratic Republic of Congo). The Kachina figures of the Pueblo Indians (including the Hopi) and spiral eyes of the Duk Duk or Tubuan (masks used in traditional burial ceremonies of the Tolai of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea) repeatedly reappear in prints or masks.
The Kachina culture is based on the conviction that all material things in perceptible reality have a spiritual counterpart in the unseen world. These spiritual counterparts are the Kachinas or ‘cloud beings’.