In our third and concluding part of this interview series, Walter Von Beirendonck (WVB) - a pioneer and veteran of menswear design - and one of the Antwerp Six, brings us his views on the changes in menswear design over the last 30 years. He began his fashion career in the 80s. His colourful, fun-loving and free spirited men’s fashion has been widely acclaimed (and sought after) amongst the artistic world. His appeal is completely universal, to the extent that he’s probably the only designer who has both Ikea and Bono amongst his client list…
WVB: I have been very much interested in menswear design since the beginning of my career. In fact, my first collection, which I presented in London, was menswear. It’s totally different from working for a woman’s body. I always try to push the boundary but to keep it under control. I want the design to be masculine yet adding enough adventurous elements through fabrics, colours and motifs.
WVB: On the surface, my design might seem very childlike, yet there’s always an underlying message. For SS16, I named the collection “the electric eye”, which is slang for camera. I wanted to express the current mood, that there’s this big dark cloud hovering over the world, which is destroying naivety and innocence. It’s important to maintain the feeling of freedom and happiness, and I want to talk about this struggle through the collection.
WVB: Apart from fashion design, I generally take on many other projects. Last year, I designed some prints for Ikea and recently I was approached to design the costume for an opera in Antwerp about the Pharaoh in Egypt. It really tinspired me to think from a different perspective. The music, the voices and the story bring many new ideas to me, which I find invigorating. In turn, I can put the energy back into my menswear design. Different creative projects keep me alive and energetic.
WVB: When Bono was working on the Popmart tour, he asked me to design the costumes (including the muscle T-shirt). I was so surprised because I was not even a fan of his music, I love electronic but not rock music. But I went to Dublin and had a meeting with him. He was such a joy to work with, very kind, creative and has a lot of respect for those who work with him.
WVB: Apart from designing, I also teach at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. It’s funny because I graduated in 1981, then the school asked me if I’d go back to teach in 1985, I said I’d try but I never evisaged myself as a teacher. It turned out I really enjoy it and now I’m the head of fashion department. I’m very proud of all the new generations. One of my students was Craig Green, who interned for me as well and we remain friends. It’s great to see him build his own company with a strong identity. That’s what we try to teach in Antwerp, we encourage students to develop their stories and identities, not just a “wow” collection.
WVB: I just keep on going and following my heart. I remain totally independent, no backer to please and that freedom allows me to evolve. I’m also lucky to have very loyal clients who have been supporting me for decades.
Interview by Lucienne Leung-Davies
Photography by Filep Motwary