Antwerp Royal Academy Fine Arts Degree Show Test its own Boundaries
Graduate fashion shows provide exciting experiences – often much more interesting than many of the shows which fill the schedules of London, New York, Paris and Milan. European fashion schools seem to foster an extremist approach and push students to display a flair for the avant-garde.
Of course this can make for fantastic viewing, even if the wearability of the clothes is somewhat questionable. Over recent years, the graduate fashion show at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (Artesis Hogeschool Antwerpen) has become the king pin of this approach.
The Royal Academy graduate show follows a unique schedule that often extends beyond three or even four hours. One could think that a show of this length could easily become formulaic, if only because the attention of the audience is bound to drop.
Instead the organisation of the academy’s presentation offers an unusual glimpse into the structure of its extremely intense fashion design course.
Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts is well known for its emphasis on the study of period and ethnic costume in the first three years of the course where students reproduce a chosen garment, going on to create a capsule collection inspired by the same garment. Although I am an unwavering fan of this approach to teaching, the individual designs of the 60 plus first and second year students seemed to be as equally directed as their study of period and ethnic costume. A singular approach was apparent in the collections of these students and there was little to differentiate them as designers. Fashion students must master many techniques and learn to grow their individuality as designers.
The prowess of academy director, Walter Van Beirendonck’s, teaching however, unfolded to become visible with the work of the third year students; most noticeably with the presentation of Golden Goat, a relevant and sophisticated menswear collection by Armondo Forlin. Forlin tested the boundaries of fashion in the manner which the best students of the academy are known for. His collection was soon followed by the work of Yuki Hashimoto who presented an equally engaging and beautiful collection.
The work of third year womenswear designers Marthe de Buck and Linna Rosquist also both deserve a mention; the former for the rather fabulous use of bronze hoops to fasten and shape her garments and Rosquist for a simply exquisite eye for proportion and balance which created grounding in a collection best described as avant-garde minimalism.
Yet, of course, the most exciting part of any graduate fashion show came next with the presentation of the 10 final year students soon to gain the Royal Academy of Fine Arts master degree. The grandstands which were half empty at the opening of the show had quietly been filling over the two hours of presentation and were now full to bust. In comparison to the younger students, the graduate work had an air of understatement and wearability that was lacking in many of the previous collections. Their market relevance however, did not provide the burst of freshness that enlivened the best of the third year students’ collections.
Credit must be given to the tessellating prints and cut-outs of Madeleine Coisne, and the Egyptian embroidery of Virginia Burlina which provided a refreshingly new approach to the current trend for surface adornment. Hyein Seo’s collection Bad Education was equally magnificent, especially for her ‘Loser Lace’ which will no doubt be an instant hit with the fashion It crowd of today. Pushing back the boundaries of wearability a little, was Blue by Flora Seierl. Seierl’s unique and ambitious approach to silhouette, layering, print, and pretty much every other aspect of garment design, put her work in a separate and intriguing realm far away from her peers.
Despite the thoroughly developed projects presented by fourth year students (some featuring up to 15 outfits), it was overwhelmingly the third year students whose work stole the show. I can’t think of a more compelling reason to return next year.
All pictures are courtesy: Catwalkpictures.com