(c) Photography: Ronald Stoops
fairy tales
Walter Van Beirendonck A/W 2001-02 - Revolution
Photography: Elizabeth Broekaert

Rituals delves more deeply into Van Beirendonck’s fascination with ritual, ranging from ethnic initiation rites to fetishism and S&M. Initiation rites are represented by a shark mask from the Bijagós Archipelago of Guinea-Bissau. The masks are worn during the festivities before or after the initiation retreat by young men that are on the height of their physical strength. The young dancers who wear such masks imitate the behaviour of these potentially dangerous animals, who represent the untamed and uninitiated. For Van Beirendonck, the shark is a powerful and iconic animal. He incorporates sharks into prints and make-up, for example on the faces of black models in Hand On Heart (autumn-winter 2011–12).

As a young designer, Van Beirendonck became acquainted with American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who, thanks to his classic language of form, succeeded in reaching a wide audience in the 1970s with a highly laden subject in his documentation of the New York S&M scene. For Van Beirendonck, S&M was a source of inspiration very early in his career. In 1982, he presented the collection Sado at the Vestirama trends show in Brussels, with models in long latex jackets, latex tube skirts and headwear with muzzles attached.
Hardbeat (autumn-winter 1989–90) is the collection in which S&M and fetishism are most outspoken, by way of knee-high laced boots and latex jackboots, masks, bondage and such slogans as ‘Fetish for Main Course’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Licks & Kisses’. The title refers to the song, ‘Hard Beat by Real Man’, by Jan Roelen of the Belgian band Arbeid Adelt (‘Work Ennobles’). In the same way that Mapplethorpe used a highly classical visual language in order to express an aspect of sexuality that society prefers to keep concealed, Van Beirendonck softens elements from the S&M wardrobe by producing them not in leather, but in soft, colourful knitwear.

In numerous collections, S&M and fetish elements appear as masks or latex bodysuits (with or without lacquered fingernails), lace fastenings, corsets and spiked heels for men (even a double spiked heel in Take a W-Ride, autumn-winter 2010–11 ). One memorable collection is Paradise Pleasure Productions (autumn-winter 1985–86), also known as the ‘Rubber Show’. Photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino immortalized the collection in a shoot with the models posing suggestively with balloons and an inflatable sex doll. In making use of rubber, Van Beirendonck in fact also wants to give expression to safe sex and ecological ideas. ‘For me, the rubber suit was a kind of basic clothing, a protective layer against the aggression of external elements’.