Antwerp in the late 70s was a quiet Flemish town known in the outer world for being the mother town of the 17th-century painter Peter Paul Rubens and for the trade of diamonds; but the destiny of this calm center on the borders of Belgium was meant to change. By the 80s six designers took over the city’s old-fellow trademark and turned into the avant-garde couture heaven that is today. This mutation took place in the so-called ‘Koninklijke academie Voor schone Kunsten’ (also known as Royal Academy of Fine Arts) where, under the teachings of the talented fashion designer Linda Loppa, six exceptional fashion designers graduated between 1980 and 1981.
Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Walt Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee represented a turning point in fashion: they were the rare phenomenon of a group making an impact on international stages simultaneously. It was not only a matter of managing fabrics, but a new manner of idealizing fashion: couture was no longer connected to artistry, lavishness and abstraction but it merged imagination with deconstruction becoming a surrealistic totality. The Academy itself thought a crucial lesson to the ‘Six’: what is important in the fashion industry is to be creative and to differ from the others: “when you leave the course, you know how to design, and nothing else”. They did not have the urge to emerge and to succeed in the immediate future, avoiding massive advertising strategies. They had this naivety to believe that one day they would make it.
The breakthrough occurred in 1986 when they rented a van and took to London for the British Designers Show with their collections. The first impact of these foreigners was not positive, but by midday of the next day, thanks to self-made publicity, they attracted many journalists and Barney’s (the American chain of luxury department stores) who made the first orders.
The name just happened: they have been named ‘Antwerp Six’ by the British press in a way to get around the difficulties of pronouncing their surnames. Since this phenomenon started many kept asking questions as: “What’s in the tap water in Antwerp?” or “What’s up with these six?”, “What is the magic formula behind this collective?”.
The sextet found itself in the right place at the right time: the world was changing very fast becoming a melted global community and, in addition to this, Belgium was heavily investing in fashion funding, subsidizing the ‘Textile Plan’. Moreover, the fashion industry was mutating: there was an opening and a will to invest on young experimental talents. The designers after that, they all went on with individual career and became famous singularly each one with its own distinctive style.