Speaking of fashion, while Paris and Milan often steal the spotlight, Antwerp holds its own as a vibrant hub of creativity. In 1980, this Belgian city became one of the birthplaces of a fashion revolution, thanks to the pioneering work of the Antwerp Six. Comprising six graduates from the esteemed Royal Academy of Fine Arts, these designers shattered conventions and reshaped the fashion landscape. In this article, let's learn about the Antwerp Six.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
The Antwerp Six in 1986 (left to right): Marina Yee, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Dirk Van Saene. © Karel Fonteyne. Images Courtesy of BOZAR.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)

Who are the Members of the Antwerp Six?


The Antwerp Six members are Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Walter Van Beirendonck. These talented designers graduated from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts between 1980 and 1982. Each brought their unique strengths and talents, forming a formidable collective that captured the fashion industry's attention. Together, they introduced a distinctive and groundbreaking fashion vision in the 1980s, firmly establishing Antwerp as a significant center for fashion design.

The breakthrough came in 1986 when the group rented a truck and headed to London Fashion Week with their collections. Confronted with limited resources and budget constraints, they cleverly rented a truck to showcase their work in London, marking the beginning of their journey. As reporters found their names challenging to pronounce, they collectively dubbed them the Antwerp Six.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
The Antwerp Six © Philippe Costes / WWD.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
The Antwerp Six emerged during a period when fashion was characterized by exaggerated silhouettes such as big shoulders, poofy skirts, and the confident elegance of Armani suits. Their approach was less formal, leaning towards deconstruction that emphasized self-expression. Together, these designers introduced raw, deconstructed garments that resonated with the gritty new reality following Black Monday, contrasting sharply with the opulent excesses of '80s power dressing. 
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)

Ann Demeulemeester

(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Ann Demeulemeester. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, March 1997.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Ann Demeulemeester, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1981, is renowned for her elegant tailoring and dark yet glamorous aesthetic. She has always embraced fluidity when it comes to gender. Ann Demeulemeester creates a serene and darkly romantic world characterized by an intriguing blend of edgy rebellion and sophistication. She is influenced by artists including Jim Dine, Patti Smith, and Jackson Pollock.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Ann Demeulemeester, 1992 Ready-to-Wear. Photo: Courtesy of Ann Demeulemeester.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Ann Demeulemeester consistently produces pieces that are distinctive and instantly recognizable; she uses almost all black and white. For her, black is poetic; it can range from romantic to aggressive, encompassing a whole gamut of emotions. She told Dazed that, "Black to me is the color of the poets but I need white too, like a black and white photo. When I create, I create new shapes and cuts. Later I make them in black or white, and that way I'm not distracted by color. Once the piece is ready, I don't add needless decoration. I prefer to keep it pure."
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Ann Demeulemeester is in her studio in Antwerp in 1999. Photography by Kevin Davies.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Ann Demeulemeester was one of the radical and distinctive Belgian designers of the 1980s. However, despite her significant impact on the fashion world, a long-term career in the industry was not her path. In 2013, Ann Demeulemeester resigned from her brand with a handwritten letter stating, "I feel it's time to separate our paths." After stepping down from her fashion label, she has since explored a variety of new formats, including sculpture and ceramics.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)

Dries Van Noten

(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Dries Van Noten at the 2023 Spring/Summer women's fashion show backstage.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Dries Van Noten, born in Antwerp in 1958, hails from a lineage deeply rooted in tailoring, spanning three generations. In 1976, Dries Van Noten enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. His eponymous brand possesses an unmistakable signature, synonymous with luxurious fabrics, unconventional prints, intricate embroidery, and bold colors. While his clothes aren't strictly genderless, they effortlessly accommodate the fluidity of masculinity and femininity without drawing attention or self-consciousness.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Dries Van Noten, Fall 2022 Menswear.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Reflecting on the group's years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Dries Van Noten said, "According to me, we have learned most by rebelling against the teachers, trying to find out how far we could push against the limitations they set." His rebellious spirit shines through his ability to blend disparate elements and unexpected fabric combinations, creating pieces that are both visually striking and full of personality.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Dries Van Noten, Fall 2022 Ready-to-Wear.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Although Dries Van Noten is an influential figure in fashion, he remains committed to preserving his brand's independence. He maintains a subdued brand presence by avoiding advertising and refraining from using influencers. Like another member of the Antwerp Six, Ann Demeulemeester, in March, Dries Van Noten announced his decision to step down from his eponymous label.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)

Marina Yee

(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Marina Yee, the under-the-radar member of the Antwerp Six. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Afp.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Marina Yee, the under-the-radar member of the Antwerp Six, never showed at any of the big fashion capitals and left the Antwerp Six collective in 1988, citing a desire to keep her business small. However, she has always had sustainability at the heart of her work and focused on upcycling and restoring vintage garments. Marina Yee hopes that people will enjoy the beauty in the details and understand the idea of slower fashion.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
In 2018, Marina Yee made the decision to exhibit her work in Tokyo. Photo: Courtesy of Laila Tokio.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
In 2018, Marina Yee made the decision to exhibit her work in Tokyo and added five new designs under the name "M.Y. Project", her first public output in more than a decade. She found such a warm welcome there. Marina Yee explained that she took a lot of time to live a somewhat secret or tranquil life, but after so many years, she thinks she has learned so much. For her, it was a good moment to step out and showcase her qualities as a fashion designer with this collection.

Marina Yee spent a lot of time studying secondhand clothing. She said, "This whole idea of 'sustainability' didn’t have a name when I first began designing, but I was already caring for the world in my own way. I was very sensitive to it." She mentioned that most brands keep using "sustainability" as their marketing, but we need to realize the true value of it. Through Marina Yee's design philosophy, we might realize why she always keeps low-key. For her, success isn’t just about fame and money; it's about being happy and creating beautiful things.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)

Dirk Bikkembergs

 

Dirk Bikkembergs, the final member of the Antwerp Six to graduate, earned his degree in 1982 from the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In 1986, he launched his eponymous label with a collection of shoes. Initially, his clothing designs featured military elements and references to work apparel. However, around the year 2000, Dirk Bikkembergs became intrigued by the sports world, with athletes inspiring his work.

The term "Sport Couture" was added to the Dirk Bikkembergs label, which later expanded to include the additional Bikkembergs line. For Dirk Bikkembergs, shoes played a crucial role in defining the overall look and feel of an outfit. His first men's shoes drew inspiration from ceremonial military footwear, featuring solidly made leather that exuded a robust aesthetic, in contrast to the classic Italian men’s shoes that dominated fashion in the mid-1980s.

This close connection between fashion and sports became Dirk Bikkembergs's signature style until he departed from the fashion world in 2011.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris) 

Walter Van Beirendonck

(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Walter Van Beirendonck. Photography by Yaël Temminck.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Since 2006, Walter Van Beirendonck has served as the head of the Fashion Department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. In this role, he has witnessed many talented students, such as Kris Van Assche and Raf Simons, rise to become world-famous fashion designers. Additionally, British designer Craig Green is a former intern of Walter Van Beirendonck.

As the oldest member of the Antwerp Six and the first to graduate in 1980, alongside classmate Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck immediately formed a friendship with him, sharing similar fascinations and international ambitions.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Backstage Image from Walter Van Beirendonck Menswear SS24.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Walter Van Beirendonck established his eponymous label in 1983. His designs are notable for their strong graphics, innovative cuts, unexpected color combinations, and a sense of humor. His use of prints and slogans is intended to make statements—both playful and serious—regarding fashion, nature, contemporary life, and society. Walter Van Beirendonck draws inspiration from various sources, including visual arts, literature, nature, and ethnic influences.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)

Dirk Van Saene

(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Dirk Van Saene, one of the original Antwerp Six who electrified the fashion scene in the 1980s.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Dirk Van Saene graduated from the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1981. As one of the "Antwerp Six", he is more than a fashion designer; he is also an artist who utilizes his love for painting in every one of his collections. He features hand-painted clothing and printed reproductions of his work onto fabric to create garments that are truly one of a kind.

Dirk Van Saene doesn't conform to trends or allow himself to be limited by labels. He rejects the pressures of the fashion industry, preferring to design collections at his own rhythm and collaborate with small, independent studios in Italy and Belgium to bring his vision to life. 
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Dirk Van Saene, Autumn-Winter 1989-90.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Dirk Van Saene's passion for tailoring and craftsmanship remains a constant theme across all his clothing collections. Beyond fashion design, he also engages in painting and ceramics. For him, fashion is constrained by certain limitations. Garments must be not only wearable but also functional for a body in motion, whereas art has limitless possibilities.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)

The Antwerp 6+1: Martin Margiela?


If you've ever encountered the term "Antwerp 6+1", you might wonder about the "+1". It's important to know that Martin Margiela isn't officially part of the Antwerp Six collective. In 1986, when the Antwerp Six were all packed into a truck headed for the British Designer Show in London, Martin Margiela had already left for Paris to work for Jean Paul Gaultier.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris
Maison Margiela SS90 Runway Show.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
Despite this, Martin Margiela is often included in the group, hence the designation "6+1", because their collective impact was significant enough to warrant it. Additionally, Martin Margiela graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp around the same time and shared similar avant-garde sensibilities with the group. Therefore, in some discussions about the Antwerp Six, Martin Margiela is regarded as an honorary member.

In our previous articles about deconstruction in fashion, we mentioned that Martin Margiela is renowned for his deconstructive and avant-garde designs, which feature unconventional materials, oversized silhouettes, upcycled vintage items, and visible seams with raw edges. His deconstruction technique involves carefully cutting and reassembling parts of old garments, crafting unexpected pieces in a new way that remains unparalleled even today.

(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)


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Dans Le Gris is a brand that started with everyday jewelry, blending minimalist and artistic elements. Our core mission is to enrich everyday life with pure, timeless, and distinctive designs.
(Meet the Antwerp 6+1: Trailblazers of Belgian Fashion in the 1980s - dans le gris)
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May 02, 2024
Tags: Fashion

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