By: Alex Germain
In the past 30 years, the Antwerp Six have risen to become some of the most influential people in fashion. First exhibiting their designs in 198, six students from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp including Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk Van Saene and Walter Van Beirendonck all went on to have successful careers in the 90s and beyond. However, unless you’re actively engaged with fashion history you may not be aware of who they are. In this article, I’ll be going through each member, highlighting their legacy within fashion.
Starting her eponymous label in 1985, Demeulemeester was inspired by gothic imagery and a bohemian sensibility and was one of the first designers to include menswear within her women’s collection in 1996. Her work went on to receive massive critical acclaim, even being featured in museums such as The Met. Despite her leaving her own label in 2013, it still continues to this day, and she is particularly known for her combat boots, which are a perfect expression of her gothic, dark, yet also reserved aesthetic.
Dries Van Noten
Born to a family of tailors, Dries Van Noten was in the fashion industry from an early age, with his father taking him to runway shows furthering his love for design. After attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, he started his own line in 1986, which has grown to become a highly successful label with over 100 collections to its name. He’s worked with stars such as Cate Blanchett on their red-carpet looks and has boutiques around the world. He’s still running his label to this day and shows no signs of slowing down.
Walter Van Beirendonck
Walter Van Beirendonck has consistently been one of the most unique and surreal designers working in fashion, with his work influencing many modern designers as well as garnering critical acclaim. Garnering influence from nature and the desire to instill emotion back into fashion, Van Beirendonck started his label in 1983, proceeding to launch several other lines such as aestheticterrorists, and open a concept store, Walter, in Antwerp. He also became head of the fashion department at the Royal Academy in 2007 and has had his work featured in numerous museum exhibitions.
One of the more low-key members of the six, Marina Yee has been in and out of the fashion spotlight but is still revered for her designs. Her early collections feature upcycled garments from flea markets, which predated the sustainable fashion movement for several decades. While her labels have been active over the years, Yee most recently contributed six designs to a retrospective at the Japanese shop Laila in 2018. She also maintains a workshop, where she continues to make upcycled garments to this day. Often called the most elusive member of the six, her impact can still be felt.
Dirk van Saene
One of the more artistic members, van Saene puts originality above all else and loves to express his imagination in his work. He is also an artist in multiple mediums, with his painting work offered featured in his own collections. After graduating in 1981, he opened his boutique Beauties and Heroes, and kept his collections smaller scale, focusing more on his art than mass success. Despite this, he won the Golden Spindle, a prestigious Belgian fashion award, in 1983, and debuted his designs in Paris in 1990. He maintains the store DVS with Walter van Beirendonck and has ventured into ceramics and sculpture. He’s even poked fun at other members of the collective, with his collage piece Bambi even causing friction within the group when it lampooned the rest of the six.
Dirk Bikkembergs is perhaps the most commercially minded of the group and has had great success within the athleisure space. Graduating one year after the rest of the group, he first gained attention for the footwear collection he launched in 1987, which paired mountaineering and workwear-inspired boots with formalwear. He later debuted his Sport-Couture line in Italy in 2000, where he blended soccer aesthetics with high fashion. He even purchased football club FC Fossombrone in 2005, which served as his personal testing ground for designs. He’s had continued success in Italy and continues to work within the soccer space to this day.
These 6 designers have been some of the most influential designers of the past 3 decades, with their designs and sensibilities resonating across generations. This article hasn’t even discussed Martin Margiela, who, while not an official member, had close ties with the group, and is perhaps the most influential designer of the past 3 decades period. We’ll save that for a future article, and for now, dig into the archives of these six designers, you might see traces of your favorite designer.