(c) Photography: Ronald Stoops

Over the last three decades, Walter Van Beirendonck has built an impressive international career. As the maverick of Antwerp fashion, he is famed for his colourful collections, his completely unique perception of beauty, his spectacular fashion shows and the socially critical themes touched on in his designs.

In 1980, Van Beirendonck graduated from the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Three years later, he began with a collection under his own name. In 1986, he and five of his fellow students from the academy presented collections at the British Designer Show in London, where the British press took note of them and branded them ‘The Antwerp Six’.

In addition to designing his own collections, Van Beirendonck continues to design for other houses and labels, such as ZulupaPUWA for JBC, as well as working on projects in art, theatre and music. His most important collaboration was perhaps from 1993 to 1999, with Mustang, the German jeans manufacturers, for whom he designed the W.&L.T. (Wild& Lethal Trash) line for the rapidly developing youth market. For W.&L.T., Van Beirendonck developed a new aesthetic, one in which he could combine his fascination for technology, high-tech materials, multimedia and experimentation with sharp, critical statements.

Van Beirendonck has also been a highly valued asset at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, initially as a teacher and since 2007 as director of the fashion department.

This retrospective exhibition investigates Walter Van Beirendonck’s world and the sources of his inspiration by way of six themes. These themes are incorporated in Walter’s Wonderwall, a 60-meter-long collage of images, slogans, objects and videos. Materials borrowed from ethnography and the fine arts are interspersed with videos of Van Beirendonck’s own fashion shows and objects from his personal toy collection. Here, we see how he tests the limits of beauty, giving his own interpretation of concepts that society imposes on us, for
example, about gender and sexuality, and how he works today’s important themes, including ecology, HIV and mass consumerism, into his collections and presentations.

The wall was designed as an analogy to Van Beirendonck’s own workbooks, which he creates in preparation for his collections. They are fantastic objects that carry us into the world of his thoughts and literally give form to the complexity and multilayered character of his oeuvre.