School’s Out

A new exhibition showcases the work of fashion designers from a top European academy.

poster for

"6+ Antwerp Fashion" Exhibition

at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
in the Shinjuku area
This event has ended - (2009-04-11 - 2009-06-28)

In Reviews by Jessica Niles DeHoff 2009-05-27

When is a seam more than a seam? When it’s inside-out or asymmetrical: these are the signature moves of deconstructionist designers, who make clothes so beautiful that even their insides shine.

The origin of this moment in fashion can be traced back to one city: Antwerp, a regional capital in Belgium, home to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts that churned out six young designers destined to burst onto the international scene in the 1980s. Ann Demeulemeester, Walter van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee and two Dirks (Van Saene and Bikkembergs) share more than vowel-heavy names; they are all interested in that essence of deconstruction, the idea of “showing process”, or in other words, showing how their clothing designs are actually made.

Often this involves the aforementioned seams; asymmetrical hems are also a favored trope; but the best of these designers have an ability to apply wit to the sometimes overly serious world of fashion. Marina Yee seems to get it just right, altering familiar clothing forms (coat, dress) into marvelous brightly colored hybrids.

But sometimes the process goes less well. The exhibition includes the work of a number of younger Antwerp designers, and let’s just admit it: some of their stuff is truly awful. Bernhard Willhelm’s black evening dress with Michael Jackson’s sequined face especially sticks in the memory, as do Bruno Pieters’s works of incredible frumpery and stiffness.

But Raf Simons’s luxurious black ensembles with frayed edges play on the elegant side of edgy. Veronique Branquinho’s autumnal plaids, along with A.F. Vandevorst’s caramel leather breastplates, would look great on any society matron.
Bernhard Willhelm, 'Autumn-Winter' (1999-2000) (left), (2000-2001) (right), (2001-2002) (center)Marina Yee (2006)

The most fun are the school projects from recent graduates of the RFA’s four-year fashion program. Since the ‘80s the students have become more and more international but their pieces still share a youthful exuberance. There’s Alexandra Verschueren’s suit made of window blinds; Lion Blau’s wicker form; and Emilie Pierlot’s surprisingly covetable ensemble of hot pink felt and faux fur. (You might actually get away with wearing this in Tokyo, though perhaps not Antwerp.) Many of the students display a high degree of skill in garment tailoring and construction, as well as a respect for and appropriate use of materials. What better tribute to the school is there than that?

Jessica Niles DeHoff

Jessica Niles DeHoff. Jessica is a Japan-based architect and urbanist. After stints at several American firms, she recently kicked off her own design practice by renovating a 19th-century rowhouse in Washington DC and building a new studio for a painter in Wisconsin. Her design work has been featured in Dwell magazine, and she has also published a set of urban-design guidelines in partnership with the Connecticut Main Street Program. Jessica holds degrees from Harvard College and Yale School of Architecture and she has taught at universities in the U.S. and abroad. Her interests primarily focus on the enrichment of the urban experience, the reinvention of historic buildings and materials, and a hands-on approach to the craft of design. She has traveled all over the world but currently resides in Tokyo, where she lives with her husband, two cats and one dog. » See other writings

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