Top Ten Belgian Designers

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Dirk Bikkembergs
Although Dirk Bikkembergs was born in Cologne, Germany, he studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. As one of the original Antwerp Six, he made his debut in 1987 in London. The Bikkembergs brand started out as a shoe collection in 1986. He then expanded to men’s clothing in 1988 and launched his first women’s line in 1993.

Bikkembergs’ designs have a sport and leisure aesthetic, which led him to introduce Bikkembergs Sport in 2004. Fashion met football in 2006 when he designed the Bix – a designer football boot by Dirk Bikkembergs. He continues to design for Dirk Bikkembergs and Bikkembergs Sport.

Veronique Branquinho
Veronique Branquinho is part of the second wave of fashion talent coming from Antwerp after the Antwerp Six. Her collections are known for their excellent craftsmanship and intricate details paired with an overall dark, androgynous look. This look attracted a number of avid followers when she presented her breakout collection in 1998.

Originally she only did womenswear, but in 2003 she produced her first menswear line. After conquering clothing for both genders, the label expanded to include shoes and sunglasses. In 2009, Delvaux, a Belgian luxury-goods house, named Branquinho as their new artistic director. A few months after accepting her new job, Branquinho’s fashion label closed due to economic troubles. She excited fashion enthusiasts with her Fall/Winter 2010 Delvaux line by doing a catwalk presentation that showcased the handbags.

Ann Demeulemeester
Ann Demeulemeester
has perfected the art of designing clothes for a strong, independent woman probably because she would be a prime example. Her aesthetic remains almost unchanged since she started designing, unwavering from dark colors and interesting, always fashionable cuts. Her body of work doesn’t reflect seasonal trends; it clearly reflects her idea of what is fresh and interesting.

She attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp from 1978 until 1981. As one of the Antwerp Six, she received recognition in the late eighties. Demeulemeester showed her first collection in Paris in 1992. At the time, she only worked in womenswear, but branched out into menswear as well a few years later. She now creates full lines of ready to wear clothing for men and women.

Martin Margiela
Martin Margiela graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1979 and secured a position as a design assistant for Jean Paul Gaultier soon after. In 1988 he created the first women’s ready-to-wear line for Maison Martin Margiela. A shoe collection called Line 22 was produced for the fashion label in 1998. In March of the same year, Margiela designed the first women’s ready-to-wear line for Hermès. He continued as the artistic director of Hermès women’s collections until 2003. Maison Martin Margiela now produces a menswear collection, eyewear and a perfume. A book called Mairon Martin Margiela was published in 2009 to celebrate the fashion house’s 20th anniversary.

Margiela is known for his secrecy as head of the label and keeps the inner-workings of his company private. That idea translates to the runway through his minimalist designs. His collections are laden with nude colors and bodysuits. The designer is also famous for experimenting with non-traditional materials to create unique looks.

Bruno Pieters
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1999, Bruno Pieters worked for a number of different labels including: Martin Margiela, Joesphys Thimister, Antonio Pernas and Christian Lacroix. In 2001, Pieters presented the first couture collection by a Belgian Antwerp graduate during Paris couture week. The collection succeeded and Pieters was seen as a new talent in the fashion world.

Pieters’ first ready-to-wear line was launched a year later. In 2007, the avant garde line, Hugo from Hugo Boss, appointed Pieters as their new art director. He also designs for the men’s line of Belgian luxury-goods manufacturer, Delvaux.

Pieters designs are known for the craftsmanship and technique. His website touts him to be “a constructionist, who likes to experiment with shape and proportion”.

Raf Simons
Raf Simons started working in galleries and private interiors after obtaining a degree in industrial design and furniture design in 1991. His foray into fashion started with an internship for Walter Van Beirendonck by doing presentation and decoration of Van Beirendonck’s showrooms and collections.

In 1995, Simons became a self-trained menswear designer and launched his Raf Simons label. His label grew steadily over the next five years, which made Simons choose to take a break from the company.

After restructuring the business in 2004, he launched a new line, Raf by Raf Simons, in 2005. In July of the same year, Jil Sander named Simons as their new creative director, a position he continues to hold. Simons has since expanded his line to include bags, leather goods, footwear and eyewear.

According to his website, “The most important message Raf Simons wants to communicate is: pride in individuality.” Simons is always searching for innovation by drawing inspiration from historical and modern references.

Olivier Theyskens
Olivier Theyskens started his career by attending La Cambre in Brussels, but chose to discontinue his education in 1997 in pursuit of starting his own label. His line sold surprisingly well for a newcomer, but unfortunately he did not have enough financial backing and had to close the label. Theyskens became the creative director for the House of Rochas in 2002. He received critical acclaim for his work there until 2006 when the fashion line was shut down due to economic hardships.

Nina Ricci picked up Theyskins talent in 2007 by making him the new artistic director of the line. While there, Theyskins designed younger, more marketable clothing, until the end of his contract in 2009. Two years later, the designer became the artistic director of Theory after designing a higher end collection for the label.

Walter Van Beirendonck
Walter Van Beirendonck
designs mens and womenswear with a specific point of view and a sense of humor. The Anterp-based designer draws inspiration from art, music and literature combined with a mix of ethnic and nature influences for his casual, urban collections. The result is a cheeky, statement-making label that keeps you wondering what he will think of next.

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Van Beirendonck first came onto the scene as one of the Antwerp Six in 1987. He has designed collections for a label under his own name since 1983, his latest being Read My Skin. His newest show, called Hands on Heart, will be presented during Paris Fashion Week on January 21.

All of Van Beirendonck’s collections are titled. He leaves the public to discover the correlation between the words and clothes, sometimes mixing the two by putting words on the clothes. He finds the fun in fashion while conveying a message.

Dries Van Noten
Dries Van Noten is another Antwerp native and graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He also showed with the Antwerp Six. He received immediate notoriety for his 1986 clothing line. Barneys New York, Pauw (a luxury fashion store chain in Amsterdam) and Whistles (a fashion chain store based in the United Kingdom) all immediately purchased the line. In autumn of the same year, Van Noten opened his first boutique in Antwerp where he continued to create and sell men’s and women’s collections. He has also opened showrooms in Paris and Milan.

Since then he has opened five boutiques. The most recent is a men’s store in Paris, which was introduced in 2010. In addition to his boutiques, the Dries Van Noten label is sold in over 400 boutiques worldwide. The Council of Fashion of Designers of America awarded Van Noten their International Award in 2008.

Van Noten creates ready to wear clothing for men and women. The label is known for its art-inspired prints and layering techniques. Celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nicole Kidman and more recently, Michelle Obama, have worn his fashions.  

 AF Vandevorst
An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx make up the designing duo of AF Vandevorst. The two met on their first day at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and collaborated on their first collection in 1998 (ten years after graduation) under the A.F. Vandevorst name. They designed men’s and women’s collections for the Italian brand, Ruffo Research, created costumes for the Susan Sonntag play “Alice in Bed”, and fashioned costumes for the Dutch Opera House in Amsterdam. In addition to their womenswear collections, A.F. Vandevorst produced a shoe line called Fetish in 2003. In 2006, the label introduced Nightfall, a lingerie collection for women.

The designers continue to show twice a year at Paris fashion week. Their work can be seen in their showrooms in Antwerp, Paris, Milan, Tokyo and Berlin.