Walter Van Beirendonck

Paula Alaszkiewicz

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA263

Walter Van Beirendonck was born in Brecht, Belgium, in 1957. In 1977, he began his studies at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, graduating in 1980. Van Beirendonck belongs to the esteemed collective known as the Antwerp Six, a group of Belgian fashion designers who studied at the Royal Academy. The group’s other members are Dirk Van Saene, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Ann Demeulemeester, and Marina Yee. Their breakout success came at the British Designer Show in London in 1987. Though his collections are shown at men’s week in Paris, Van Beirendonck remains based in Antwerp, where he began teaching at the Royal Academy in 1985.

Van Beirendonck began designing his namesake unisex brand in 1983, subsequently changing the name of his label and introducing subsidiary projects. He lists art, music, and literature as design inspirations. In 1993, he launched and designed the line Wild and Lethal Trash, frequently shortened to W&LT. W&LT was the first fashion line to have a Web site. In 1999, when Van Beirendonck returned to producing under his own name, W&LT was handed over to one of his students. That same year, he launched his youth-focused aestheticterrorists line; in 2004, he returned to focusing fully on his eponymous brand.

Unlike the stylistic minimalism associated with the Antwerp Six and other Belgian designers such as Martin Margiela and Raf Simons, Van Beirendonck’s aesthetic is bright and humorous, if not chaotic. Visually embedded with social and political messages, the designs frequently advocate the practicing of safe sex and offer critiques of the fashion industry. His aestheticterrorists label was admittedly an attempt to reinsert emotion into fashion in response to a perceived lack of creativity plaguing the industry.

Van Beirendonck has been involved in numerous collaborations and side projects. Among the extensive examples are the W&LT interactive windows he designed for Bloomingdale’s in 1998, a can design for Coca Cola, outfits for U2 front man Bono for the PopMart tour, collaborations with SHOWstudio, and costume designs for ballet and theater companies. From 1998 to 2012, Van Beirendonck oversaw Walter, his multi-label concept store in Antwerp, and an adjoining gallery called Window. In 2001, Van Beirendonck launched the publication A Magazine, which later became A Magazine Curated By. He has remained closely tied with his alma mater and was named head of its fashion department in 2007. Additionally, Van Beirendonck is the designer of ZulupaPUWA, a children’s line for the Belgian mass-market retailer JBC, as well as artistic director of Scapa Sports.

His garments have been included in countless museum exhibitions internationally, including the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s “Belgian Fashion Design: Antwerp Style,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Extreme Beauty,” both in 2001 in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “Fashion V” in London in 2008. In 2011, the Mode Museum in Antwerp held a retrospective of his work called “Dream the World Awake,” a title that aptly reflects Van Beirendonck’s desire to stimulate awareness and change through design.

Wild and Lethal Trash, Fall/Winter 1995. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. Walter Van Beirendonck: Believe! Rotterdam : nai010 and Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen, 1998.

Find in Library Evans Caroline. Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness . New Haven and London : Yale University Press, 2003.

Find in Library Jones Terry , ed. 100 Contemporary Fashion Designers . Hong Kong and Los Angeles : Taschen, 2009.

Find in Library Van Beirendonck Walter , ed. Dream the World Awake . Tielt : Lannoo Publishers, 2012.

Walter Van Beirendonck. Web site. http://www.waltervanbeirendonck.com/ .