In the late eighties it was the Antwerp 6 who put Antwerp on the fashion map. Since then a lot of young Belgian designers have emerged and have made a name for themselves. Most of them graduated from the fashion section of the Academy of fine Arts.
And now there is Afair, the first Belgian Fashion Week, not only promoting Belgian fashion but also giving a platform to new European designers and artists.
There has been a relationship between fashion and arts since the Surrealists drew inspiration for their paintings, photography and films from the Parisian haute couture in the 1920s. Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with Dali, René Magritte illustrated catalogues for Maison Samuel, a fashionable boutique in Brussels, Max Ernst denounced the pretension of fine arts in favour of the creative energy of fashion. Forty years later Betsey Johnson hired Andy Warhol for her Paraphernalia show. Warhol was happy to comply and transformed a store window on Madison Avenue into a piece of conceptual art.
Dragonfly, the organisers of the Antwerp Fashion Week continue the tradition by giving exhibitors the chance to commission young artists to give extra character to their stands at the street wear section, part of the event that took place in a disused shunting station. The industrial architecture of the building, with its railway tracks, lifts, lockers and washing stations, provided the perfect backdrop to the trendiness of the clothes and the edginess of the artwork on display. Nothing suits these clothes and the life style of those who wear them more than graffiti, and obviously there were a lot of examples of this art form, most noticeable was a young man who calls himself 'The Strangler'. He draws his inspiration from old cinema posters, 50's advertising and tribal body-art, and was asked to perform action painting at the fashion Week after he was discovered at the Expo Récup in Paris. His main motive for lending his work to this event was that he 'feels an emotional connection to the clothes' and 'finding a way to get more exposure'. The painting he was working on when I saw him was reminiscent of an old Japanese print depicting a warrior and was certainly complimentary to the crispiness of the clothes on display.
Melvin (Wout Schildermans) also started his career as a graffiti artist, but now concentrates on illustrating. He's worked for big names as Absolut, Levi's and Freeze Magazine. He used different materials for his panels in the Fashion Fair pressroom, such as acrylics, pencils and spray cans and used wordplay as a source of inspiration. On one wall we see a hunter with a gun (the hunting season for fashionistas is open), on another the fashion police is on the lookout for serious offenders against style. In combination with the white and silver furniture, the artwork turned the busy pressroom into a relaxed place to be.
Totally different, but very appropriate were the collages by Ludovicus. He used city maps to accentuate the urban feel of the new Timberland collection. In this age of mobile phones and GPS systems, city maps become a new form of poetry, and these collages, hand-coloured and mounted in light-boxes, bring back the past in a modern manner. By participating on this event, Ludovicus aims to take art out of its isolation, to show it to a broader public, who in his words already 'live art' by their interest in fashion, which is, after all a form of creativity. Being commissioned by Timberland was a new reason to experiment, to look at new objects or get a fresh look at well-known objects as these city maps.
The contribution these artists made brings freshness and vitality to innate objects as clothes, and offers proof that the love affair between art and fashion is still very much alive.