COMING UP: #SHOW2019
It’s been close to 40 years since the (in)famous Antwerp Six (seven if you include earlier graduate Martin Margiela) graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s Fashion Departement in Antwerp. Afterwards, the likes of Haider Ackermann, Bernhard Willhelm, Peter Pilotto, Kris Van Assche, Bruno Pieters, Cedric Jacquemyn, Devon Halfnight LeFlufy and Rushemy Botter followed in their internationally renowned footsteps. Leading up to this weekend’s fashion graduate show, This Is Antwerp sat down with two of this year’s graduating Fashion Masters. We caught up with Quinten Mestdagh (23) and Brandon Wen (25) on one of their final prep days before the presentation of their graduate collections. A conversation with two exciting young talents, on the verge of becoming the designers of tomorrow.
Congratulations on graduating as a master of fashion at the Antwerp Academy! How would you describe the past 4 years?
Quinten: Thank you. For me it was five. I stopped between the third bachelor year and the master year, because I felt like it was all going a bit fast. I hadn’t properly digested the bachelor years (laughs). I started last year but then halfway through I just knew I had to pump the breaks a bit. I got the chance to do an internship at Dries Van Noten. It was great to have an experience out there in the industry and then come back for my master. If I had to describe the experience at the school in one word, I’d say it was intense. The first two years were particularly hard on me. Those are the years where you get drilled into the heavy workload. There’s so many assignments and the school prepares you for a lot of work with limited timeframe. In the first year we had a lot of drawing to do, lots of two dimensional work. You then move onto three dimensional work and you do a mini-collection. For a lot of us, it’s all hands on deck the second year. You’re doing everything you did the first year plus patterns, stitching and all of that. It’s a lot of trial and error. You’re researching and questioning everything, looking into resources. It’s a lot. The third year is where it got more fun. I knew more about my own work method and I was technically more informed. It’s also the year where you have to push forward tremendously and develop something of high quality. The master year is where you have to deliver the most amount of work but also when it gets the most fun. You know what you’re doing, you’ve developed an identity, you know your strengths. Overall, I’d say I learned the most from the mistakes I made over the years.
Brandon: I’d also definitely say it was intense (laughs). It’s honestly been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in life, to study here. Before I came here I studied fashion in New York but it was a very academical approach. Here, it’s been all about the creativity. I love that. You’re constantly facing yourself, which is what also makes it so hard at times. I felt very supported here but then at the same time also completely alienated from people outside of the bubble of the school. Right now for instance, it’s difficult to connect with other people. Like, even at the supermarket. You’re in this big, big rush. You’re so infatuated with your own thing constantly so you’re never really listening to people who aren’t doing this, you know? It’s been a good, interesting, educational four years. It’s all reflected in my graduate collection actually.
Why did you decide on studying at the Antwerp Academy opposed to any other fashion school in the world?
Brandon: This was the only school I wanted to go to, from the jump. When I graduated high school in America, I thought about it but I didn’t want to go to art school. My high school was all about college prep so I thought I’d just get a degree or something. I then came to Europe looking for work and some people I met suggested to apply for schools. I was visiting Paris and we took a trip down to Antwerp and I had no idea Antwerp was an important fashion city (laughs). I was astonished when I learned more. It spoke to me in terms of identity. There’s something very graphic and playful about what this school is known for. I was attracted to the energy. It was the right choice I know now. I can’t really explain it well, it just fits.
Quinten: I sort of grew up around the school. My mother is a teacher here. Even before she was working here, she took my sister and me to a graduate show. I must’ve been around 10 or 11 years old. I was shocked to see that this was something you actually study after high school (laughs). It amazed me that so many people come from all over the world to study here. Around that time the school also shaped my views on fashion. Of course I looked at magazines or would see things in the early days of Google Images but it was the school that year after year shaped my idea of fashion with the graduate show. Ultimately, that’s why I chose to study here. It’s practical that I already lived here but it wasn’t the deciding factor. Another attraction is the fact that this is the school that pushes artistry. It’s part of a broader art institute and you feel that.
How has Antwerp city inspired you as a designer?
Brandon: Funny you should ask, my collection is titled Brandwerpen. It’s inspired by the last four years here but also Antwerp as a place. Last year I was inspired by Los Angeles, where I’m from. The year before that was more about America in general. Now it’s this city’s turn. The places where I live always affect what I do. The collection is a bit of a diary of this year. My year started out quite chaotically because a lot happened. Everyone talks about how you have to start the year fresh but I totally wasn’t. I pulled through though. So my collection came from this dark place and then sort of gradually also morphed into something more joyful and playful as well. It’s a total mix, very much like this city and my experiences in it. There’s a lot of references in the collection to things I found out about while I was here.
Quinten: Living in Belgium, naturally the first designers you become aware of are the Antwerp Six and the generations afterwards. It’s fairly recent, with the height of it being the eighties and the nineties. Of course it influenced me, it’s hard to pinpoint but I think Antwerp designers all share the similarity that they know how to build their own worlds and business models. Antwerp as a city, with the people in it, has greatly influenced me. Just walking past a Dries Van Noten store window when I was younger inspired me in a way.
There’s a very busy schedule coming up with the graduate show around the corner. What’s the first thing you’re going to do after the last garment has safely been stored and you’re completely done?
Quinten: There’s the after party when the show is over so maybe I’ll get drunk (laughs). I’m going on a holiday to Milan with some friends. Then I’m going to look into all the practical things I couldn’t do in the last couple of busy months. I need to go to a dentist, and see some family and friends.
Brandon: I’m going to watch a crap ton of reality television! I love doing nothing but haven’t found time for that in such a long time. My family is coming so maybe we can all do nothing together.
How do you see yourselves working in the future? Do you want to work for a house or become an independent designer/brand?
Quinten: I already did an internship and that really opened my eyes. You need that experience outside of the bubble of being so busy with your own work at the school. At Dries, I noticed that I had to learn to work with a team. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to join an existing house or do your own brand, you’ll always be working with other people. It’s a collaborative effort so you have to adapt. So I’m interested in interning or joining a house first, hopefully. It’ll also be helpful to see more of the business side of things. I do see my own product or brand down the road.
Brandon: I totally agree. You’re constantly self reflecting and confronted with yourself here. Which is good, but I want to take a break from myself a bit and go out there. Meet more people and see how this works in the actual world. The best place to do that is by working for someone at first. I wanna go to a big city, meet everyone in it, figure out what is going on and learn more. I don’t think I’ll ever feel that the timing is completely right but eventually I do want to do my own stuff.
See Quinten Mestdagh’s womenswear collection Default By Bliss and Brandon Wen’s menswear collection Brandwerpen for yourself this Friday and Saturday at the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s Fashion Departement #SHOW2019. Tickets and details for SHOW 2019 are available here. Tickets for the in-depth and personal look at all the master graduates #EXPO2019 are available here.