Friday, 22 November 2013

Walter Van Beirendonck - Wild & Lethal Trash

Walter Van Beirendonck (Brecht, Belgium, 4 February 1957) is a Belgian fashion designer. He graduated in 1980 from the Royal Arts Academy in Antwerp. Together with Dirk Van Saene, Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee (graduated in 1981) and Dirk Bikkembergs (graduated in 1982) they became known as the Antwerp Six.

Since 1983, he issues his own collections. They are inspired by the visual arts, literature, nature and ethnic influences. His unusual color combinations and a strong graphic influence are characteristic for his collections.

From 1993 to 1999, Van Beirendonck worked under the label W. & L.T. (Wild & Lethal Trash – or ‘Walt’ as it was known), staging elaborate fashion shows which often resembled huge warehouse parties more than anything else, featuring clothes with a distinctly futuristic vibe: ‘talking’ voice boxes, flashing lights, and holographic appliqués were common additions to the garments, many of which were constructed from high-tech synthetic materials. If brands like Boy London and BodyMap were espousing the vibe in a rough-and-ready way in London, while the likes of Moschino and Castelbajac were interpreting it with couture refinement in Milan and Paris respectively, Van Beirendonck occupied a unique position, blending high-end with ‘trash’ and cutting-edge with elements of mainstream pop culture. WVB’s work frequently blurs the boundaries between fashion and art (indeed, the designer has collaborated with the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm on several collections), and his ‘anti-fashion’ approach always provides an interesting meta-view of the haute couture world.
Peter, Hapsical

Ever since I laid my eyes on a very colorful editorial from Pigeons and Peacocks early last year, I'd been obsessing with all the W&LT clothes they used for styling. I researched it online but found no clothing shop that stocks it. I later found out that W&LT, or Wild And Lethal Trash, only existed during the 90's. It was created by the forever avant-garde designer Walter Van Beirendonck (former member of the Antwerp Six) who is known for his ultra-colorful designs.

One of his most known works was when he styled for U2's Popmart tour. Those who lived the glory of the 90's would never forget his iconic BLOW-UP muscle-jackets.

I researched online why a very different and creative brand like W&LT would close down during the period where his aesthetic for fashion was in. From an interview he said that the company's backer, Mustang, tried to get involved with the brand's image. He later on decided to step out of it. That's what happens when the corporate fucks with creativity.

I have so much respect for Walter Van Beirendonck as a designer. From an interview, he was asked who he is as a designer and how he described his designs. He said:

"Despite the fact that the first impression you get when looking at my collections is of color and fun, I do invest a lot of energy and research in the stories I want to tell, the statements I want to make, and the messages I want to communicate. So there is always a second (more loaded) layer in the collection. This makes me a designer with a recognizable signature, one who is ready to push the boundaries. I am not afraid to do it my way."

I think his style caters to a specific crowd or to a specific period of time. From all the colors and the prints that exploded in Fashion weeks last year and this year, his fashion designs are now in trend again. It's just the right time for his works to be celebrated again. Just recently, Antwerp Fashion Museum opened an exhibit for his timeless clothes (before, during, and after W&LT). It covered 30 years of his works. Amazing! I really wish I saw the gallery in person.
Paul Highness

Dream The World Awake, RMIT Melbourne 2012 

Dazed Digital: Just a few years after gradating, you launched the infamous 90s label Wild & Lethal Trash. What was the idea behind that?

Walter Van Bierendonck: The jeans company Mustang approached me when street fashion first started to establish itself, and I went to see the company with my portfolio. They were amazed by the street fashion look that I showed them and gave me the opportunity to create a youth line inside the company. It started as a streetwear project and ended as a high-end designer line.

DD: What was its appeal?

WVB: I think it was the right feeling and the right product at the right moment. That period was about experimenting and looking towards the future in a bright way and it fitted really well into that generation. Eventually Wild & Lethal Trash became a victim of the 'Prada Sport period' - the end of the 90s when everything became dark again. Then the style was totally minimal, nylon and black, and the company behind W< wanted me to move in that direction. Eventually, I stepped out of the company and left everything behind me. It was a decision about whether to take the money or go for creativity. 

Where to begin? I've been struggling to find the words on how truly amazing this retrospective exhibition of Walter Van Beirendonck's archive is since I saw it at the media preview early last week. As I previously mentioned I took over 500 photos that day and since then I've gone back a few times to take the images you see in the gifs in this post, but also to soak it all in and hopefully gather my thoughts. As you can see above, from the moment you walk in it's a visual feast of colour and movement (albeit a lot smoother than in my gif haha) and features pieces dating back from Van Beirendonck s graduate collection in 1980 through to today, a career spanning more than three decades. For those who don't know Walter Van Beirendonck is one of the famed Antwerp Six, a group of influential avant garde fashion designers who graduated from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts between 1980-1981 (the Antwerp Six also includes the likes of Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten). He is known for his spectacular fashion shows under the W.&L.T. label (Wild & Lethal Trash) which have featured everything from models line dancing to a collection of soft toys sitting front row with celebrities and editors relegated to the back row, as a sort of fuck you to the fashion system. Whilst in town Walter Van Beirendonck gave a series of talks with Chris Dercon, director of London's Tate Modern, and one thing that stood out for me from that was the idea that fashion is not art but rather industrial design ‘Fashion is not art, fashion can use art and art can use fashion but fashion is not art,’ said Dercon. ‘I think that fashion is one of the most important expressions of industrial design.’ Beirendonck agreed. Of course fashion can be creative and artistic, you'd only have to look at this exhibition to see that, but nearly all of the pieces in the exhibition were sold commercially and as such they have a primary function which makes them design. If only all designers were as brave and daring as Walter Van Beirendonck, who works within the commercial restraints of fashion but pushes the boundaries - what a different world it would be.
Fashion Hayley


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