More in this project

The Belgians

by Penny Martin .

The historiography of fashion uses time and place as a form of lazy visual shorthand. Mention the 1940s and the ‘New Look’ hourglass silhouette immediately comes to mind; the 1960s conjures up images of girls in space-age Courrèges. Similarly, geographic locations evoke generalisations: whereas in the fashion imagination, Milanese women ostensibly drip with fur and perch their over-tanned feet atop Prada sling backs, in New York, efficiency, business and grooming are paramount. In an even more reductive way of viewing the past, these two systems of categorising fashion are even conflated in the most dangerously a-historical and simplistic contentions of all: ‘the 1950s were all about New York’, ‘the 1960s about London’ and the 1970s Paris’...

Of course, these broad, overarching statements are as misleading as they are seductive. Yet what they do is demonstrate how fashion's short memory and even shorter attention span for specificity relies upon fixed and indisputable ‘hooks’ such as periodisation or nationhood on which to hang sweeping aesthetic observations.

According to this system, then, in some very recherché fashion quarters, ‘the last five years has been all about The Belgians’. But what exactly does it mean to say this? For this project, the Belgian photographer Jean-Francois Carly has selected seven Belgian designers, Véronique Branquinho, Maison Martin Margiela, AF Vandevorst, Bruno Pieters, Jean-Paul Knott, Haider Ackermann and Véronique Leroy, as the focus of seven fashion films, each featuring garments from their respective Autumn/Winter 2003 collections. Rather than representing an exhaustive list of the 'best of Belgium' - were it such a list, there are huge omissions, such as Raf Simons or Dries Van Noten to name but two - instead the project acts as a meditation on the nature of contemporary Belgian design and asks whether grouping designers together in terms of their nationality is a useful way of approaching their work.

As the sequence unfolds over the coming weeks, the pieces show that the work of each designer is quite different in structure and appearance and there is in fact no overarching visual or stylistic quality that proves the designs to be ‘intrinsically Belgian’. In this sense, their ‘Belgian-ness’ is located elsewhere. It is only in the accompanying interviews that one begins to see the interlinking strands - the very particular training at Linda Loppa's Royal Academy of Antwerp and the extremely individual, almost polemical world vision encouraged there - that bind these designers together as an imagined fashion community.