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Wednesday, 10 March, 1999, 18:27 GMT
Belgian fashion cuts a dash
Carolije Wyatt and designer Eva Lacres pick out just the right shade of grey ...
By Leonida Krushelnycky

Twelve years ago, six young Belgian fashion designers hit the catwalk running. Their innovative yet wearable designs were snapped up immediately. And ever since, their clothes have been slipping off the hangers and into our wardrobes. Those original six designers have now become pronounceable household names - like Anne Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten and Dirk Bikkemberg. And where they led, others have followed: Belgian fashion designers are now beating their French rivals pins down. And the success is all due to one factor - the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Antwerp Academy graduates are now making tills ring worldwide
The Academy was founded 325 years ago, by David Teniers the younger, painter to the Archduke Leopold and Don Juan of Austria. The original Academy encouraged the study of painting, sculpting, engraving and book printing. But in the 1960's, the long history of textile weaving in Flanders finally blossomed into a fully-fledged fashion department. Teaching followed the example of St Martin's and the Royal College of Art in London.

It now draws students from around the world, and sets gruelling standards. As many as 160 new studnets may start in the first year, but of these, only 8 will eventually graduate four years later. The course and teachers demand total commitment to fashion and individuality. Only the tough and talented survive. As Patrick de Muynck, one of the senior tutors, says, " At the end of the four years a student comes out of the institute a fully fledged designer, ready to show and sell his collection. The training provided by the fashion department stimulates innovation. The media feature new fashions and trends in quick succession so as to keep the public interested. The impulse to re-create, to open up new horizons and to overthrow existing concepts is essential and characteristic of our visual culture. Every fashion designer is influenced by this rhythm to a greater or lesser extent. This variety of personal angles and visions keeps fashion alive and fascinating. By nature, a designer has a limitless interest in the unknown and the new. The garment has to have a soul, and individuality that reflects the designer's soul".

Promotion for Eva Lacres's latest collection
EVA LACRES is a fashion designer who graduated from the Academy in 1987. She began making men's shirts and her capsule collection was sold out as soon as she'd finished the sketches. She became known for her simple, clean lines and beautiful tactile materials. Women began buying and wearing their partners' shirts, so Eva launched a women's collection. In 1996 she teamed up with a major Belgian retailer YOSHY bvba, and moved her shop and atelier to the old part of Antwerp.

In Crossing Continents we visited her showroom and Caroline Wyatt was able to try on and covet many of the designs. For those of you out there who can't bear to throw away anything grey, don't worry ..Eva's Millennium collection is ready to go and everything is grey!.

The continuing international success of the Academy has meant that expansion was inevitable. By next year the fashion department will move to a new purpose built site in the centre of town - the Flanders Fashion Institute. Antwerp has become the home of Belgian fashion and fashion will give something back to the town. Alongside the school the complex will house a museum showing ancient and modern fashions; crafts connected with clothes - glove-making and millinery; a cinema; reference library and video resources.

WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE: Patrick de Muynck
of the Antwerp Royal Academy : what's special about Belgian design?
See also:

29 Sep 98 | Business
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