By Lina Goelzer
Belgium is a small country with major fashion heritage, and Antwerp is its sartorial capital. Historically a major regional port and textile hub, Antwerp emerged as a fashion capital in the mid 1980’s, thanks to a group of designers who came to be known as the “Antwerp Six,” pictured above. These six designers -Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk van Saene, and Marina Yee- banded together in 1986 to launch their respective collections in London, where they made a major splash in the fashion scene. They all began their careers in Antwerp’s prestigious legendary Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which remains one of the focal points of Antwerp’s fashion ecosystem.
Antwerp’s fashion ecosystem is well-established and multifaceted, with art, academia, production, retail, and tourism working together to enable the emergence of fashion talents.8
The ModeMuseum, or Momu, is dedicated to Antwerp’s fashion. The city’s office of tourism has also created a Fashion in Antwerp App that includes themed walking routes to highlight local fashion heritage, as well as shopping directories 9. Furthermore, Antwerp’s relatively affordable rents allow for a proliferation of unique local boutiques to open alongside the storefronts of major international fashion brands.
While many local designers remain in relative anonymity outside of Belgium, a remarkable amount are internationally known for their work at major established fashion houses. Raf Simons made a major mark by bringing a touch of his modernist aesthetic to Dior from 2012 to 2016; Oliver Theyskens (Theory) and Peter Phillips (Chanel Cosmetics) are other notable names. Martin Margiela and Kriss Van Assche have found global success with their own brands. No unified aesthetic or identifiable Belgian style can be found amongst these designers; rather, Antwerp’s fashion scene fosters a strong sense of individualism.9