Walter Van Beirendonck at RMIT Design Hub, Melbourne

Walter Van Beirendonck
linebreakMelbourne does bang on about its blockbuster events, but this winter the city has full bragging rights. While Claude Monet crowd pleases at the National Gallery of Victoria, with more than 50 masterpieces on loan from the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, Walter Van Beirendonck will crowd provoke at RMIT University’s new Design Hub with Dream the World Awake, examining three decades of the designer’s prolific fashion output, on loan from the Belgian fashion museum MoMu.

The two men may be separated by several CBD blocks and wildly contra-posting creative instincts (Van Bierendonck’s lewd latex suits plumb different depths to Monet’s lily ponds) but their mutual experimentation with colour and their deep analysis of the space between subject and viewer (both the real and psycho/sociological) unite these two big, bearded mavericks across a city and a century of extraordinary change.linebreaklinebreakWalter Van Beirendonck

“Walter who?”, I hear all you non-fashionistas ask of the seditious Belgian who manages a busy studio, collaborates with the world’s top creatives (think artist Erwin Wurm, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and Aussie-born designer Marc Newson) and serves as head of fashion at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. He is that fabulous fashion iconoclast who, ironically, is responsible for more trends trickling down to street tribes than just about any other designer in the past 30 years — one of the legendary ‘Antwerp Six’, so named for studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in the late 1970s and early ’80s before individually storming the catwalks of Europe with their unpicking of old fashion orthodoxies.

Walter Van Beirendonck
Of the ‘Sixers’ who made us rethink our wardrobes – Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk van Saene and Marina Yee variously messed with ethnicity, androgyny, Gothicism and a dark deconstruction of old truths – Van Bierendonck positioned himself on a whole other planet, stitching base instincts and political statements into super-sharp suits shaded in cartoon colours. Never before had Bowie, Blue Velvet, bondage, grizzly bears, voodoo rituals, sex-club fetishes and fang-baring tribes been composted into a fashion for the outré man. But there it was from the get-go — ‘SADO’ knit suiting that said to the world: “I’m an outsider in fashion, but I feel pretty good about it.”

Dream the World Awake
celebrates his enduring relevance across public events, academic programs, costume displays,photographic installations and fashion films, courtesy of the philanthropic Sussan Group CEO Naomi Milgrom — the business leader who backs her advocacy of the arts with more than just talk. The must-see RMIT show will contextualise Van Bierndonck in the pantheon of real fashion players, and celebrate his enduring relevance across public events, academic programs, costume displays, photographic installations, fashion films and creative collaborations. We say bravo, and bring on a talent who reminds us that as style homogenises into a global soup, new brilliance will bubble up from those backwaters that celebrate unique point of view and place.linebreak

Walter Van Beirendonck

Dream the World AwakeRMIT Design Hub, 17 July–5 October.

Words: Annemarie Kiely
Photography: Ronald Stoops, Scott Trindle
Illustrations (S/S 1989): Jan Bosschaert
Video: Nick Knight

This story was first published in Vogue Living July/August 2013.


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