Man in the Clouds: Walter Van Beirendonck


Walter Van Beirendonck, Belgian menswear’s garden gnome, has his head in the clouds. Over the past three decades, WVB has simultaneously produced his eponymous collection, taught fashion at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Arts, run his own style emporium, and made art. His latest “performative sculptures,” done in collaboration with artist Erwin Wurm, were the finale of his show on Friday. And starting September 14 through February 2, 2012, Antwerp’s MOMU fashion museum will host “Dream the World Awake,” Van Beirendonck’s first retrospective.

WVB is a master of candy colors, guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of those who wear his clothes and everyone they meet. There has always been something John Waters and Pee Wee Herman-like about Walter. The look is cuddly, but it packs a funny-uncle twist.

On a scale of one to outrageous, WVB’s “Cloud 9” show was a humdinger. We begin with the hair. This has been a season of major masculine dome action, but Ed Moelands’ lopsided pompadours with a comb stuck in sideways took the cake. Ditto the paintbrush cloud makeup by Hué Lan Van Duc and Inge Grognard which made the guys look as though they were passing through some cotton candy mist.

The collection was a positive ode to floral pastels for men, an idea echoed elsewhere, from Raf Simons’ bias plaids to Riccardo Tisci’s bird of paradise at Givenchy. And the tailoring is a parade of clashing patterns, a strategy WVB shares with Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo.

Pants and shoes in matching ice-cream plaids is a new take on coordinates guaranteed to produce double takes. This pant/shoe combo was paired with sleeveless tailored jackets in other plaids and check bowties for a chaotic cloud of pastel pattern. And to cover bare arms, there were patchwork, animal-shaped above-the-elbow gloves by Thomasine Barnekow, made by France’s storied Maison Fabre! Walter continued with pastel cable knits slashed like streamers, extra-wide shirt-weight cotton balloon pants in crazy quilt plaids and tutu tulle sweatshirts.

For the finale, Van Beirendonck showed a few “performative sculptures,” the fruit of his collaboration with Erwin Wurm, the Austrian artist known for his One Minute Sculptures. These works are part of Wurm’s “Wear Me Out,” exhibition at Antwerp’s Middelheim museum through September 25. Using tutu tulle, WVB began with jackets and ended up sky high by transforming his men into walking clouds.