Antwerp Class of 2014 Part 2

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…continued on from Part 1

Hyein Seo – The name from this crop of graduates that’s likely to be the most recognisable is Hyein Seo.  Like her Korean compatriot Minju Kim, who the 2013 H&M award with her third year collection, Seo also got a head start when she showed her third year collection as part of VFiles in New York last February.  It made instant impact, with Rihanna wearing Seo’s signature “Fear” fur stole around Paris last season and stockists clamouring to stock the collection.  Seo had to graduate first and so she’s done so with a collection called “Bad Education”.  It was the most “shopfloor-ready” collection of the lot and unsurprisingly got the most Insta-love with eye candy hits like ‘Loser’ lace, ‘School Kills’ slapped on the back of jackets and dare I say girl-friendly school uniform silhouettes.  Seo worked in her name as though she was ready to launch her own brand but also poked fun at the fact that she was the ‘bad girl’ of Antwerp precisely because of this commercial ambition.  It was interesting that Seo said that her collection was perhaps not very ‘Antwerp-y’ because of its instant saleability.  True that it lacked depth in terms of inspiration compared to the others.  But you want to buy it and wear it.  Hyein Seo now seeks to set up her label in Antwerp and will most likely to be the solo hit of this crop of graduates.

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Madeleine Coisne – In a sparse room in the beautiful school grounds of the Academy, Madeleine Coisne replicated the tunnels that lead up to Antwerp’s Central Station to display her highly accomplished print-based collection.  She looked at the geometric patterns on the tunnels and also ecclesiastical clothing to create silhouettes that featured interlocking flat planes that were the perfect foundations for Coisne’s elegant geometric prints, rendered in rich colour combination – sometimes in velvet, sometimes in silk satin.  It was as though Coisne was sending out a visual CV to Dries van Noten, who incidentally was present at the show with his team, as they gave out a prize (it went to third year student Laure Severac).

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Raffaela Graspointner – Surface decoration reigned supreme in this year’s batch of Antwerp graduates and Raffaela Graspointner led the charge on the adornment front with her collection ‘Holi Blush Bubble Crush’.  Ray and Charles Eames (with a touch of Memphis?) inspired Graspointner along with Joan Miro’s shapes, David Hockney’s colours and an ornate mood derived from Bollywood.  It could have been an overload of art, design and cultural references if it weren’t for the fact that Graspointner executed her silhouettes with precision and strong head-to-toe conviction (note the excellent socks and shoes).  Indian embroidery in eye-catching colour combinations veering between pastel and vivid on leather surfaces were again handled brilliantly.  What should have been too much turned out to be spot-on.  Of course, there’s no denying that there’s a personal aesthetic bias.  Graspointner’s eye for colour, decoration and textures makes her a delicious prospect, whether she does her own thing or works for a house.

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Clara Jungman Malmquist – In football, there’s a game of two halves and in fashion, there’s a presentation of two halves.  In Clara Jungman Malmquist‘s presentation, it was hard to see her clothes properly as they hung limply on rails, supported by admittedly strong drawings and research materials inspired by childish paint-by-numbers and Karlheinz Weinberger photographs of post-war Swiss teenagers.  In the show however, Malmquist’s sense of colour, layering and texture play came to life.  Her tulle canvases hand painted with geometric compositions and simplistic landscapes exercised technique but also an uplifting joyfulness – a feeling felt similarly in Eran Shanny’s collection.  In further conversation, Malmquist comes across as a true independent and experimental spirit, which would be great to see explored further in the future.

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Virginia Burlina – Last but certainly not least on the installation rounds was Virginia Burlina‘s collection “Lunatica” presented in a church, where she had set up her beautiful and haunting paintings alongside her collection with a sacrificial alter laying out the scene of her abandoned bride.  Burlina was inspired by the outsider artist Marguerite Sir, who went insane after she was jilted at the alter.  Sir created a hypothetical wedding gown for her imaginary nuptials as an art piece and Burlina takes the lead, combining wedding dress elements with hospital gowns as the basis for her highly ornate collection.  Surprisingly, Burlina taught herself (and members of her family) to do embroidery for the purpose of this collection.  And yet her beadwork looked incredibly accomplished as though they had been sewn on by the hands of a specialist.  Burlina’s collection was impressive on an emotional front and her technical tenacity married (geddit…) well with the narrative of the collection.

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Antwerp Class of 2014 Part 1

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It’s taken a mega pic trawl and a whole week to get this round-up of the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts‘s fourth year fashion graduates up.  Reasons as follows –  a) the engrossing and engaging way that Antwerp Academy makes its students present their collections, b) the fact that I was on the jury for the first time this year and so had an entirely different experience of the graduate collections in comparison with if I was just a spectator and c) the students themselves.  It was an impressive and diverse crop of graduates from Antwerp this year.  As it is every year I suppose, and that’s down to the unique and thorough education that graduates on this intensive four year course receives in Antwerp, a place where as a student you can really be within your own fashion microcosm – developing, experimenting and really finding what you have to say for yourself in fashion without the distractions of say a fashion capital like London or Paris.  Some of you will know that Antwerp’s course is a rigorous four year process where students are whittled down either by selection or by self-elimination so that when you finally see the group of students graduating from fourth year, you know more or less that they’re worthy of attention and accolades.

In an interview with Dazed in their Outsiders issue, Walter van Beirendonck, who has been fashion director of the The Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts for over twenty years said “I have this big fantasy that I can easily get into the heads of these people and guide them from that way out It’s not that I tell them what to do, but it’s important for me to keep their identities and what they stand for.”  And what they stand for is vastly different from one to another as we jury members and teachers of the school were taken around Antwerp (a brilliant way to also see the culture of a city) to various locations within the city (sometimes on school grounds, sometimes not) where each student presented their collection and portfolio .  They set up their installations as they wished and brought you into their world momentarily making it difficult not to become overly partisan to every one of them.  It also helped that their teachers and in particular Dirk van Saene, who is responsible for the fourth year students, were present to give extra nuggets of information that would give us an idea of each student’s development and strengths.  Then that very night we saw their collections on a level playing field, shown as part of the big fashion show in a cavernous warehouse building by the harbour.  That would change perceptions of certain graduates with regards to their final marks (who knew that I’d one day grade a fashion student) but the overall impression was that all ten students have experienced a wonderfully rich education.  And put into the global context that Antwerp remains one of the most affordable elite MA courses, even if you’re an overseas student (roughly EUR8,000 a year for overseas students compared to say £13,000 at Central Saint Martins MA – for domestic/EU students the fees are incredibly low), you have to commend the school’s teaching staff for compiling what is a hugely creative course for students to freely express themselves and at the end of the day, have a strong portfolio to put them on whatever path they might lead be it doing their own thing or going to work for a house.  

I’ve split up the round-up in two parts because of the aforementioned heft of pics…  

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Emmanuel Beguinot – I’ve not read the novel ‘The Sand Child’ by the Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloum but Emmanuel Beguinot‘s collection is definitely an impetus.  Beguinot centres his collection around the novel’s heroine, living her life as a male heir to her family.  It’s a handy plotline of course to explore the oft-used theme of androgyny.  He sculpts the upper body, transforming a woman’s shape so that sand dunes curve their way around the bust and shoulders, in contrast to the strictly straight masculine trousers.  Amidst the strong sculptural forms in primary colours, Beguinot wrecks a bit of havoc with an anarchic cut and paste and painted over print that is also worked into the collection.  It’s a technically precise collection that when looked in tandem with Beguinot’s third year “Octo-Core” menswear collection, gives you more a fuller picture of his eye for strong graphic lines and shape shifting silhouettes.

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Eran Shanny – The most experimental of all the installations belonged to Eran Shanny, who had female beatboxer Alma Soderling and artist Hendrik Willekens to soundtrack this performance (which he took part in as well) to showcase his collection.  The spontaneity of Soderling’s voice and the vibrant thump of Willekens’ beats matched up with Shanny’s the dynamic scribbled out clothes, inspired by naive art and the urgency of punk rock.  Shanny threw lines, shapes and motifs like the peace sign or the head of a tiger on the body as though he were creating child minded art attacks.  The way fashion students are exposed to the school’s other disciplines of painting, sculpting and graphic design showed in Shanny’s multi-disciplined approach.  As an ex-dance student with an interest in performance art, Shanny has perhaps a unique voice to bring to fashion if this collection is anything to go by.  

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Kristina Kharlashkina – The primp and pomp of kings and queens of the 16th and 17th century is a rich starting point for any designer.  It’s well-trodden territory too so the danger is can you eke out anything original out of the subject matter.  Kristina Kharlashkina sought to explore the decadence, decoration and structural layering of these historical costumes and combine them with crystallised digital print and off-kilter fur wigs.  Another unique facet of Antwerp’s fashion course is that in their second year of study they are asked to study and remake like for like a piece of historical dress and use that as a starting point for their final 2nd year collection.  Kharlashkina seems to have taken that on board for her masters collection, mining that sense of historical richness and deconstructing the silhouettes for added sensuality.

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Yens Cuyvers – In a car park in Antwerp, Yens Cuyvers announced himself as the only Belgian designer graduating from Antwerp’s final year.  And specifically in the context of Belgian menswear , Cuyvers follows in an aesthetic path, well trodden by Raf Simons.  Cuyvers even managed to get Simons collaborator and fellow Belgian Willy Vanderperre to shoot his look book for his collection entitled “BAAS”.  Cuyvers said he saw his collection as a conclusion following his 2nd and 3rd year collections, fusing sportswear and neoprene fabrics together with menswear finery like morning coats and smoking jackets.  The linking point was the initial starting point were the insane colours of the Australian peacock jumping spider, blown up and abstracted into prints.  Their colours both bright and subdued are collaged into the collection and also feature on what I thought were very impressive shoes for a student who hadn’t specialised in footwear.

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Flora Seierl – Perhaps where concept was most evident was in Flora Seierl‘s collection.  The collection name is a work of art in itself – _sidereal_ethereal_immatereal_.  Seierl spoke to us about a dream of teleportation through space and time and visualised this as a blur of black to blue, going from a physically hard place to a light and transcending one.  Seierl’s research in particular was impressive and immersive as she looked at everything from rave tribes to quantumphysics.  The results of this lengthy thought process was a series of cut digital leather pieces, warping and wrapping the body as thought it had been scanned, which perhaps felt a little heavy-handed at times but delve into those books and you’ll find a mind that could be put to work doing nuanced research at a brand.

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