Fashion pop quiz: Name The Antwerp Six. As graduates of Belgium’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp themselves, this is a test that Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos pass without pausing for breath: “Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Marina Yee,” they tag team between them, listing the designer alumni that went on to form a radical movement in the ’80s that put the Belgian city on the fashion map. “Not Martin Margiela,” adds Peter, of the designer often erroneously included, for a bonus point.
“We attended the Royal Academy of Fine Art because obviously it was a renowned school at the time, but somehow we always felt like there was an authenticity and diversity about the programme there and the designers that came out of it,” Christopher explains. “Antwerp was an incredible education. The teachers really encouraged us to find ourselves and insisted, ‘Don’t try to be like The Antwerp Six.’ It was never about channelling that Antwerp look. Other designers have done it later and became very successful doing it,” he concedes.
Peter continues, “The Antwerp Six was a different generation, so they were reacting to the ’70s and ’80s by channelling minimalism. Because we followed the true intention of that school by finding ourselves, we are the complete opposite. Our reaction was to be feminine and joyful and for us to be able to speak to a wider audience of different women.”
One generation later, with a 12-year-old fashion label, the duo’s first collection of handbags launching the day this issue goes on sale, plus a royal wedding dress to their names (courtesy of Princess Eugenie of York), not to mention a slew of celebrity supporters including Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Lupita Nyong’o and Rihanna, and you can forget The Antwerp Six – it’s Peter Pilotto that’s making the Royal Academy of Fine Arts’ prospectus look good.
On pioneering the idea of print empowerment, thanks to the unmistakable digitally printed designs they launched from the very beginning of their careers, Peter notes, “Our clothes are very visible, and we keep on hearing from women that wear the pieces that they really create a good energy that lifts you up. Fashion can do that.”
Christopher elaborates, “Our clothes are loaded with a very precise energy. It’s an energy that starts with making the clothes and gets passed onto the wearer – the wearer feels it. We can have fun, but the process is very technical and everything we do comes from technical research. So whether we do print, knitwear, jacquard, pleated or hand-painted, it all comes from love for beautiful techniques. Our design process is a journey where we always keep in mind how will our customer will wear it, how will she feel in it. The way to know if your clothes empower you is trying them on, seeing how you feel. Once they put on our clothes, everyone keeps telling us that they feel incredible. The ones that try them are empowered.”