An interview with Walter Van Beirendonck to A Magazine


Just after Walter Van Beirendonck’s ‘READ MY SKIN’ show for Spring Summer 2011, A BLOG caught up with Walter at his showroom in the Marais in Paris, to open a decade old can of worms. As the creator of the original NºA Magazine (when it was A, B, C, D, E…), Walter discusses the origins and intent for the magazine concept, the frustration of Belgian designers, and his hope for fashion and the wider world.

A MAGAZINE: How did the magazine begin?
Walter Van Beirendonck: It started in 2001, the magazine was one of the six projects that I was presenting that year in Antwerp because the city of Antwerp asked me (through the fashion institute) to come up with an idea to promote fashion and to show in fact what was happening in Antwerp, to unveil the fashion in Antwerp. I really wanted to make a connection with the city and that’s why I was working with different locations, I was working with the colour codes through the city also, and I didn’t want to just do fashion shows. I really tried to go deeper into the content of fashion. That’s why I wanted to have these different exhibitions.

One was about two women – around the work of Coco Chanel and Rei Kawakubo. Then there was Mutilate about how bodies are reshaped by fashion, and sometimes mutilated by fashion or by ethnic tribes. The third was The Radicals, which was a photo exposition on the harbour of Antwerp on publicity panels. And then there was Emotions, which was a video installation of hundreds of testimonies from people about their experiences in fashion and how they were emotionally touched by things that were happening in fashion. That was in the Police Tower in Antwerp.

What else? There was also a childrens project that didn’t come through, and then the fifth project was the magazine. In fact, the main reason why I wanted to integrate the fashion magazine is that we don’t have a Belgian fashion magazine on the international level, because I don’t think that any image that is made in Belgium makes it out of the country. It was a big problem that we were feeling since the 80s when we were starting up, that there is no power from the magazine world in Antwerp. It was also a big frustration for a long long time for us. Because if you had something shown in The Face it went worldwide, and with everything we did in Antwerp, we just had this point of 200km of distance, it’s a very strange feeling that you are making a kind of fashion which could be internationally known, but that you cannot get out of your country.

The idea was really to make a magazine that was really showing the work of Belgian designers, that was the main idea. And to always have a different curator, but always working with Belgian designers. And ‘Belgian’ is a very wide thing that people who are working out of Belgium, or graduated from the school, or installed in Belgium could do it. But, it was not meant to be an ego trip. I used a lot of different curators for the different projects, I worked on The Radicals and Mutilate (those are the two that I really put myself in), but the others were from different curators – I found it very important to keep it dynamic, that’s why I also chose to do it A, B, C, D – to show that it was evolving, going from one project to another.

A: How was it first received?
W: I think we had a lot of respect and I think people really liked it. It was a rather radical way of thinking about how to introduce and show fashion. Also what I liked a lot about the first issue was that so many people are involved. Dirk Van Saene did of course the main styling and ideas, and the idea not to do a cover was an important decision. He worked together with so many different designers that were selected for the magazine.
A: Who would you like to see make an A MAGAZINE today?
W: Well I would firstly say myself, as noone ever invited me to do it! Also I think from Belgium, Peter Pilotto & Christopher De Vos or Mikio Sakabe could also have something interesting to say.

A: How has your brand changed over the years?
W: My brand W&LT (Wild and Lethal Trash) became a huge project with Mustang with over 600 clients – we were producing worldwide and selling worldwide. It was a huge brand with a lot of people involved. WLT was in the 90s, it was a lot about experimenting with materials, with shape and form – and also making clothes for youth culture – that was really important. Then of course aestheticterrorists® was a transgression because I couldn’t use my own name, and then now back to Walter Van Beirendonck that is using my own name and back to the original spirit. I think I have a much better relation with fashion than I did at that time. As I really scaled down my company into a small business, that I can do what I want. I can do my statements, decide what I am going for every season. I don’t have this pressure from companies, not that I don’t like pressure – but that I don’t have other people decide for me. I bought back my freedom. I don’t think my spirit has changed over the years, its just I still want to experiment and push my boundaries and try to be making interesting fashion. And of course now it is related to 2010, it’s a different time.

A: For your mens Spring Summer 2011 show, what is the significance of “READ MY SKIN”?
W: Its not about tattoos, definitely not. It’s about different races. I am so fascinated how quickly the world is changing. I mean I see so many multi-racial people. If I just look at my students, they all have different nationalities and they look also very international. Asian, Eurasian mixtures, and I think it is very interesting to see how the world is changing so fast. Originally, if I think back in the 80s, every country had a certain vision and look. Also in the show I want to show an international, wide look of different people. All these different skins and colours. Its about messages on the body, but also about how the skin is telling something.

A: And the idea of “HOPE”?
W: Hope is hope of course, I think the world and the fashion world is going through a crisis. There is so much aggression, and war and problems all over the world, and I think it is very difficult. We talk about fear and we talk about fate. We have so much fear yet still we have fate. I wanted to show this through this collection, and show that I still believe in fashion. I think it is difficult for everybody, and definitely for young people who are living in this time. Also I think that anyone who has can communicate to a wider audience and has something to say, should say it.

A: There seemed to also be a tone of aggression through the collection…
W: A lot of people (I read some blogs) thought that it looked like bullet holes on the clothing, and of course that is an underlying idea but originally, because I liked this motif from military costumes that gave a very different volume easily, and sometimes it looks very festive. The broderie anglaise also was not about bullet holes either, but it fit the concept.

A: How about the menswear corsets?
W: Corsets? Something I have been doing since Sex Clown. I like to work with some details that come originally from womens fashion – I think about red nails and lips. Normally there were more models with red lips but they all didn’t want to do it. I don’t understand it. You see that even in 2010 people are still not so easy with how they feel about gender and perception of gender. The corsets and the jewels (by Erickson Beamon) I bought across also from womenswear. Originally they (corsets) were also worn by men, but now it creates a sort of tension, especially when I mix it with sportswear. Its not about this feminine feel, it becomes very masculine.

I want to push forward my boundaries about mens fashion, to create certain tensions. And that’s what I like; otherwise I wouldn’t keep putting so much effort in.


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