Fashion Focus

Young Masterminds

We caught up with five of the 18 graduating master students from Antwerp’s prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts, to talk about the role of the Fashion Department, the reputation of the alumni and their hopes and dreams for the future.

interview by Julie Geilenkirchen
photography by Lee Wei Swee

Robbie Van Mierlo

What makes the Academy such a special place to study?
Before I came to the Academy, I already had quite a strong vision on what fashion entailed to me personally. I had a certain idea about beauty and art and approached everything from a very personal point of view. During the four years, I’ve spent at the Academy, I was continuously pushed to accomplish these ideas. They make you strive for this sense of individuality by giving you complete creative freedom. By challenging you to be yourself and to show this image of yourself in your work and concepts, the Academy nourishes and feeds pre-existing ideas you have. By doing this, you can get to the essence of your vision as a designer.

When you look at Antwerp’s famous alumni, are they a good representation of the education you received?
I think that many of the students nowadays opt for Antwerp as an Academy due to alumni like Dries Van Noten and Demna Gvasalia. You can see the level of the Academy clearly through the level of design these alumni bring to the table. As students, we are pushed to go beyond fashion, to look at the wider perspective of arts and culture and that’s exactly what these designers are known for and what helped them grow. They work very conceptually, they approach designing in the creative way we all learn here as opposed to being business-orientated. Personally, I’m not drawn to the commercial aspect of the industry. I see myself as a designer, an artist. 

What are your hopes for the future?

First of all, I hope to have a job. (laughs) And to make a tiny difference in the effort of making the world a better place. On an ecologic and ethical base mostly. I’m not claiming I’ll handle everything perfectly, but I want to strive towards making a difference and looking beyond our life course. Feminism is also close to my heart and I would love to help steer this progress from a fashion point of view. Creating change and development in our culture is something I firmly believe in. Aside from that, I’m not contemplating on starting my own label immediately. I’m looking forward to gaining experience at renowned fashion houses and learning from the best. It would be a great honour to work for a brand like Balenciaga or Gucci. I adore the specific way in which they handle creative concepts and incorporate romanticism into their ready-to-wear collections.

Eduard Both

How has the Academy contributed to your growth as an emerging designer?
We get artistic license and that’s a big challenge for a starting artist. You don’t want to make any mistakes, which tends to hold you back a little to exploit this liberty. Limits often make things easier, the fact that the academy doesn’t impose those is scary. Every student needs to find a way to deal with this, it’s a learning curve.

Do you see the academy’s famed alumni as an example?
I notice that people tend to get influenced by others more easily than before. It’s important to observe others but at the same time, you need to find a way to step away from what is already out there. There will always be resemblances, whether it’s on purpose or by accident. I’m not saying designers copy too much, I just feel like there’s a need for individualism in fashion.

How do you plan on expressing yourself creatively while keeping the financial aspects of today’s fashion industry into account?
I’m confident that I will find a way to make my creative ideas work in a retail environment. Designing a piece of clothing is one thing, selling it to a consumer is another and I’m aware of that. That’s what makes it challenging and fun, finding a way to create something that will please your audience.
It was an incredible experience to be granted the opportunity to focus on merely the creative aspect of the industry, but working in a team will offer me a different perspective.

Dávid Ring

In your opinion, how does the Academy differentiate itself from other programmes?
In Antwerp, there’s a significant difference between the first three years and the master year. The first year you undergo a lot of mental pressure due to the high number of assignments. Rather than limiting your creativity, these assignments help develop it. You have a moment to get inside your garment. It gives you an opportunity to study tailoring, shaping or pattern making and it is kind of a starting point for your collection. The master year is a year with loads of creative freedom and that’s what makes you happy. You feel like you’re trusted as a designer to portray your vision and bring it to life. It makes you feel valued and you can only reach this moment of self-appreciation by knowing how much you worked towards it.
What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?
I would love to work in a good team, so it’s not necessarily my goal to become an independent designer. I’d much rather work for someone for a couple of years to earn the experience and the knowledge that comes with it. I would love to do something artisanal or haute couture, but that’s such a small and elite group it might be hard to access at first. I dream big and I’m hopefull. We’ll see what happens.

When you’ll work for another fashion house, do you think you’ll get the same freedom you got accustomed to during your studies?
When you work for a label, it’s a group effort. You have to be able to collaborate with your colleagues, work within a team and learn to make compromises. On the other hand, I’m a strong advocate of fighting for your ideas. It was an incredible experience to be granted the opportunity to focus on merely the creative aspect of the industry, but working in a team will offer me a different perspective. I’m confident that this will help me become a better and stronger designer while treasuring the creativity I was offered.

Sofie Nieuwborg

The Academy has a lot of famous alumni, did this influence your choice of coming here?
The fact that so many renowned designers graduated from the Academy, combined with the overload of creativity the Academy has to offer, gave the school a sense of legitimacy that comforted my parents with my choice of going here. To me, it was the freedom Antwerp offered young students that made the Academy so attractive. In high school, I studied Latin and Modern Languages, and everything was neatly lined out for us, it felt very restrictive and it didn’t match my way of thinking, my approach to studying. The freedom we were offered was a true roller coaster and at times it could feel a bit overwhelming. It was of the utmost importance to me that I was able to delineate my vision and follow my intuition. But they know very well how to guide you within this freedom.
Do you ever compare yourself with other Antwerp alumni?
When you graduate from the Antwerp Academy, it’s always easy for others to draw a line of comparison to the Antwerp six. But it’s important to remember that they graduated in a different generation. It’s 2017 now and we are living and working in a very different fashion industry. Antwerp as an academy has an immense influence on shaping the designers that graduate, something that’s imminent when you look at artists like Demna Gvasalia. During our masterclass with him, you could feel the vibe of the Academy in his way of thinking. I immediately understood Vetements, I saw the connection to Antwerp, to the Academy.

Where do you envision yourself five years from now?
I hope I’ll be happy and working in a place that respects its people and the environment. I’m not going to start my own label, but I’d love to work with a big team. Have the ability to think through every single detail of a collection. There are few labels where I could picture myself, but I’d rather keep them to myself for now. I don’t want to create expectations that aren’t relevant.
I feel like my final project at the Academy allowed me a glimpse of how infinite the possibilities are and I want to explore what else I can say on that matter. 

Raphaëlle Lenseigne

How did you land on the Antwerp Academy as the top choice for your design education?
The Academy’s approach is somewhere halfway between an art school and a fashion school. Its primary goal is to develop each student’s original universe and identity, without necessarily focusing on the practical aspects. Since I wanted to figure out my artistic interests and personality, I considered Antwerp to be the best match. They offered me the opportunity to figure out what I want to say with clothing without limiting to what sells at the moment. I think this is the main reason why Antwerp is considered an avant-garde school and inextricably, the reason why it generates designers that are willing to go against the existing fashion system.

Do you think you’ll have the same amount of freedom working as a designer as the Academy offered you as a student?
It’s obvious there will be new constraints I didn’t face at school. The commercial projects are always going to be guided by what sells in today’s industry. That being said, I plan on working on a personal portfolio, the same way we did at school, be it in smaller dimensions. I think you can always work on your ideas in a free way, but you need to create the context for it.

What are your ambitions going forward as a designer?
I plan on focusing on Adult. a shoe line I created with my fellow alumnus Shone Puipia. I also plan on developing a more artistic approach to garments by collaborating with artists on individual projects. I feel like my final project at the Academy and the collaboration with artist Barbara Massart allowed me a glimpse of how infinite the possibilities are and I want to explore what else I can say on that matter.