Today sees the opening of Dream The World Awake, the first retrospective exhibition profiling the career of avant-garde Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck at the Antwerp Fashion Museum - and our self-same titled project showcasing Van Beirendonck's fashion film and photographic collaboration with Nick Knight and Simon Foxton.
A maverick presence on the international fashion scene and one of the original Antwerp Six, Van Beirendonck first sprang to prominence in the early nineties with a series of spectacular and outrageous catwalk shows in Paris, under the terribly apt label W. & L. T. (Wild & Lethal Trash). However, Van Beirendonck's radical nature has always been more than just shock-frock fashion tactics - he views his clothes as sartorial palimpsest, a means of communicating beliefs and messages to the world at large.
Van Beirendonck's collections tackled not only the ideas of technology, pop culture and ethnology that became mainstays of fashion in the late eighties, but also explored socio-economic themes such as ecology, mass-consumerism and AIDS prevention. The latter is something of a trademark, Van Beirendonck exploding myths of sex and sexuality, investigating new ideas of gender and questioning contemporary conventions of masculinity. Witness collections that dressed men in giant romper suits (Bad Baby Boys, A/W 1986), trussed them up in leather gimp-masks (Revolution, A/W 2001) or transformed them into giant hooded phalluses or dildo-nosed dragonflies (Sex Clown, S/S 2008).
Dream The World Awake showcases all this and more, offering an overview of three decades of Van Beirendonck's innovation and invention. This is not only limited to the catwalk but also includes diverse projects spearheaded by Van Beirendonck - the kitschy, cartoonish costumes created for the U2 PopMart tour in 1997 receiving special focus. A centrepiece of the exhibition is Nick Knight and Simon Foxton's collaborative project, a forty-one model photographic frieze and fashion film created by Knight showcasing Foxton's visual mash-up of Van Beirendonck's enviable archives. Mixing garments from different collections - and even decades - together to create new looks in collaboration with Van Beirendonck himself, Knight and Foxton inject fresh life into these museum-worthy pieces, highlighting their continuing revolutionary relevance to contemporary menswear.
A selection of images from this shoot are also showcased in GQ Style, with the video and photographic frieze shown both online as part of our Dream The World Awake project, and also in the MOMU space itself, blown-up larger than life. That, it seems, is a fitting summary of Van Beirendonck's entire fashion career.
Dream The World Awake runs from 14 September 2011 - 19 February 2012 at the Antwerp Fashion Museum.