Walter Van Beirendonck

Walter Van Beirendonck

S/S ‘25 | Paris

June 30, 2024

Show took place on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 

By Ali Khan

Author’s Note

Kubrick once famously said that to make a movie he has to have the idea simmer in his head for at least a couple of years — just to be sure that the idea is worthy of developing any further. Such is the importance of time to creativity.

In fashion, while the designers are expected to produce collections every six months, the journalists are expected to publish the reviews within days, if not hours of the show.

Does that do justice to the collection? Can you actually digest what the designer is offering, and in return offer a valid critique? Without letting the work simmer in your head — probably not. Which is why so many reviews either end up reading like the “PR company” provided statements or a description of the show that can very well be confused for “closed captioning.”

Ever since his public feud with Virgil Abloh, Walter Van Beirendonck has been having a moment! A long one considering today’s fashion environment. Bored by the copy/paste approach of most big-name fashion houses, a new generation of global youth continue to discover the veteran designer, finding relevancy and comfort in his designs.

Global success has not come easy. The designer has been around for over three decades, sticking to his guns and presenting an uncompromising vision of fantastical clothing that, although earned him respect in certain circles, still kept him from being a mainstream success. So while his compatriots achieved success earlier, Van Beirendonck has remained a fashion outsider.

And later, when some of those compatriots left fashion, disillusioned by its spectacle and demands, Van Beirendonck continued, believing that of all the arts, fashion is the one most receptive to interactions with the fringes of society, other art forms, and hence the perfect platform for the fantasy world that he has been developing since childhood.

Time, of course, plays a big part in it (along with conviction). A personal language of design that is unique can’t be developed overnight. A designer might present new work every season, but it’s a work-in-progress and part of a thesis that is unfolding over years, if not decades.

And Walter Van Beirendonck has achieved that by believing in his ideas and giving them the space to develop. In that regard, he is very much like his fellow Antwerp alums, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela: If you have the conviction to stay true to yourself and your ideas then your audience will find you, but the journey has to be your own and the path of your own making.

For those of us trying to understand the future of menswear, this collection offers another clue. In the 40 odd outfits sent down the runway, Walter Van Beirendonck was able to perfectly balance the femininity and masculinity in his outfits — sensual and delicate but still unmistakably offering the armor of masculinity — codes that are still very relevant to men’s fashion. The play on these contradictions between the extremes continue further in silhouettes, fabrics, prints — as the designer tries to make sense of the society around him while holding onto the values that he clearly holds dear.

Not only that, Van Beirendonck also managed to show pieces of a collaboration with G-Star Raw that you would never notice if it wasn’t pointed out in the show notes. It’s a clue as to how collaborations need to happen in this day and age when the hype era is completely dead: a partnership of the designer’s creativity and craftsmanship with the fashion mass producer’s technology; not the copy/paste logo adornment that continues to happen season after season at Dior menswear.

As an academic looking at the work of another academic, I can’t help but notice the subtle but deft decisions with regard to silhouettes, cuts and fabric choices visible in all the pieces–something that materializes only after years of reviewing student work and helping them find their voice, while instilling solid foundations in the technical aspects of product development.

While the collection might not offer a practical way to reconcile different cultures and societies across the globe, and the message may seem a bit idealistic if not naïve, for loyal fans it offers an escape to a fantasy in which hope can live long enough for some eventual resolution to these fractures.

There’s been a lot of criticism of collections at fashion week this season, and rightly so. Faced with some backlash against their total obedience to the fashion conglomerates, I see it as a concerted effort by mainstream fashion media to rebuild some of their lost credibility. While the endeavor is worthwhile, the criticism is often misplaced.

Rather than following the issues through to their logical conclusion, the narrative continues to be framed through the lens of personal taste, social media sentiments, and/or a lack of understanding of the brands’ DNA. Criticizing Louis Vuitton for putting on a massive show, Chanel for not being bold, only goes to show the lack of understanding of the ethos of these brands and their core customer. If you truly want to champion creativity and innovation, there are still plenty of designers, big and small, that continue to set the trends and push the fashion conversation that can be found in each fashion week, including Walter Van Beirendonck.

Lastly, with Dries Van Noten retiring this season, I wonder how many of us would have predicted that Walter Van Beirendonck would be the last one from the Antwerp Six still standing. His body of work demonstrates the unique aesthetic language a designer must commit to, put himself on the line for, and spend the time for it to mature into something others can understand, to be worthy of being called a fashion legend. We can be sure he did.

Photo Credit: Walter Van Beirendonck