Belgian Fashion Turns 25

By
Photography David Atlan

Published October 4, 2011

KRIS VAN ASSCHE, PATRICK VERCAUTEREN, MADAME PATRICK VERCAUTEREN DRUBBEL. PHOTO BY DAVID ATLAN

Belgian style editor Jesse Brouns and Belgium’s Ambassador to France Patrick Vercauteren had the good idea to celebrate Belgium’s 25 years in style with a party at the embassy residence in Paris during fashion week on last Saturday’s La Nuit Blanche—when the city stays up all night to dance in the streets. The Duvel (Belgium’s frighteningly strong beer) and champagne flowed in the Ambassador’s garden with a projection of backstage images by Marleen Daniels, while some of those Belgian fashion designers and their friends in France—including Dior Homme’s Kris Van Assche, Josephus Thimister, “Amélie” director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Martine Sitbon, DVF’s Yvan Mispeleare, stylist Elisa Nalin, and fashion show producer Etienne Russo—made the parquet shake to the sounds of Hong Kong Dong.

Jesse Brouns, who has lived in Paris for the past 15 years, said the project took about two months to organize. “Celebrating Belgian fashion is very complex to pull off because the designers are divided by the different communities (Brussels, Flanders and Wollonia). Each comes to Paris to promote its fashion separately. The idea of doing something in common was a bit of a shock for some. ” Brouns was born in Brussels, but is Dutch-speaking, part of a minority group that makes up about 10% of the city’s population. “I was surprised by the turn out,” he added. “It was a lot more glamorous than Belgian events usually are.” Brouns says Belgium is still turning out great designers. “There’s new people all the time, and some of them are starting their own brands like Jean Paul Lespagnard, who has had really good reviews with his second collection in Paris. ”

Belgium seemed like one of the least likely fashion capitals in 1986—those nonstop jokes about Belgians and fries from their malicious neighbors the French seemed to rule them out of the style game—when a group of talented outsiders called The Antwerp 6 (Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee) staged their first showroom together in London. Soon after, Belgian Martin Margiela left his position at Jean Paul Gaultier to launch his infamous Maison in Paris. And since then, the country’s fashion schools, Antwerp’s Royal Academy and La Cambre in Brussels, have been steadily churning out fresh style talent. Olivier Theyskens, A.F. Vandevorst, Bernhard Willhelm (who’s actually German but studied under Van Beirendonck at the Academy) Haider Ackermann (he’s French, but studied and lived in Antwerp for many years), Paris couturier Bouchra Jarrar, and jewelry designer Natalia Brilli come to mind. And so does Raf Simons, even though he studied architecture before he launched his eponymous label and took the reigns at Jil Sander. So there, you Parisian fashion snobs!