For the fashion students at Antwerp’s Royal Academy, the graduate show is time to reap the rewards of endless efforts, sleepless nights and countless disappointments. Tailored experiments of the first-year Bachelors, historical costumes and collections of the second-year students and the full-fledged collections of the BA graduates are traditionally followed by the Masters’ showcasing of their work. And, shaped by one of the most prestigious fashion departments in the world, masters they’ve truly become.
Out of this year’s eight tour-de-force MA collections, we’ve selected our five favourites – and it wasn’t an easy task.
Federica Di Leo
The exquisitely beautiful but spiky fuchsias that appear in Federica Di Leo’s prints are ubiquitous in Sicily and a fitting symbol for the island’s difficult history. Sicily-born herself, Di Leo dedicated her collection, Rita, to Rita Atria, a teenager, who in the early 1990s was a witness in the police investigation against the Mafia. Rita’s story is tragic: coming from a Sicilian Mafioso family herself, she decided to testify against the Mafia members after her father and brother were killed. She was put under the police protection and relocated to a small house in the outskirts of Rome where she lived in hiding. After the judge who protected her was killed, the girl committed suicide realising that she was in danger, too.
Di Leo translated Rita’s story into a poignant and imaginative collection where draped clothes and hoods symbolised her seclusion and fear while in hiding. Rita’s mother, who saw her daughter’s testimony as a betrayal, smashed Rita’s tomb with a hammer — an event alluded to by the hammers models carried in their hands. Despite the grave theme, Di Leo’s clothes are delightfully wearable. The body-hugging dress, for instance, decorated with a graphic “NO MAFIA” print, most definitely has our seal of approval.
Stefan Kartchev’s riff on the now-trendy East European culture is impressive. Entitled “Ambivalence”, his menswear collection is accordingly multifaceted and presents an unlikely partnership of sporty and ecclesiastical motifs. For his final-year collection, the Bulgaria-born designer found inspiration in the religious advertising that peppers his home country. The voluminous shapes in the collection draw on orthodox liturgical wear, while the asymmetrical details and sports fabrics create a futuristic, almost dystopian mood. The clothes are blotched with inscriptions borrowed from TV ads (the effect is surreally ironic) and are made to resemble banners. “People in Eastern Europe are still hoping for their faith to bring them a better future,” commented Kartchev, whose catwalk presentation had an ominously cultish feel.
Kjell De Meersman
Last year, for his third-year BA collection, Kjell De Meersman playfully translated his six personal party-time personas into an array of eye-catching garments. In his MA work, party motifs are palpable too — against the backdrop of a gigantic disco-ball that dominated the runway, the designer showed glamorous, revealing looks in latex and glitter.
Named after a female deity worshipped in parts of Africa, the collection celebrates empowered femininity. Inspired by the designer’s banker mother, it has several formal looks finished with ripped details to disconcerting and subversive effect. “I’m one of the few students who do eveningwear here,” remarks De Meersman, who seems to be in favour of opulently sexy womenswear. In addition to twelve women’s looks (all latex and fur) the designer showed four for men: to demonstrate “the importance of being capable of doing both”, as he explained. His men, however, dressed as they were in distressed, torn suits, look purposefully battered to render them “an accessory for once”.
The collection, all in all, oscillates artfully between the sexy, the cheeky and the aggressive. Some models wore wimple-like headgear made of latex, which made them resemble nuns ready for a party. As for the fur pieces, well: “I went to the woods and shot up some of my pieces with a hunting rifle,” told De Meersman — a practice the SLEEK team in no way endorses.
“She is an Australian, white-trash goddess with a fetish for mother earth,” says Shayli Harrison of the character she created for her graduate collection. Harrison, who spent most of her childhood in Western Australia and grew up “surrounded by native bush-land near the ocean”, offered an alternative view on our attitude towards nature. “It’s about treating nature as your lover,” she explained. “Or looking at what you and nature have as a relationship. Perhaps, in that way, if we see it as something reciprocal, we might stop abusing it.” Harrison translated her vision into a lyrical and well-balanced collection, full of airy fabrics, voluminous shapes and asymmetric details. The captivating prints incorporated paintings by Shaily and her grandmother, while the shoes – frilly and layered – were quirky versions of the classic cowboy boot. The designer’s catwalk presentation captured her concept perfectly, the models resembling river fairies replete with green hair and legs smeared with mud.
Gennaro Genni Velotti
Gennaro Genni Velotti’s collection was a beautiful ode to freedom and femininity, drawing on his native Naples and Martin Parr’s images of beach life. Although that may sound somewhat incongruous, Velotti managed to bring his different inspirations together to form a powerful, well curated collection that boasted a tinge of early ’90s trashy glamour.
The plethora of broad-shouldered, monochrome jackets defy the conservative view of femininity, proving “that a woman can be a man, and a father and a mother,” said the designer. Gennaro warmed his collection up with multiple references to Naples: the wrinkled, sturdy shirts were made to resemble wet clothes, hanging from a laundry line, body-hugging jumpsuits, accessorised with mesh, looked like sunburnt skin.The result was a whimsical celebration of life by the seaside with a nod to the stereotypes present in Parr’s inimitable oeuvre.