Dirk Van Saene opened his own shop, Beauties & Heroes, almost immediately after graduating from the fashion department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He has never followed trends and his work cannot be pigeonholed. In 1990, he designed a commercial collection for Bartsons, the Belgian raincoat manufacturers. A few months later, he presented his first collection in Paris, although that did not mean an international breakthrough. Dirk Van Saene refuses to be dictated by desire for growth or marketing and designs his collections according to his own rhythm. He produces these collections in collaboration with small, independent Italian and Flemish studios. He has also worked extensively with Scapa, for fellow designer Veronique Branquinho and with Delvaux, the Belgian leather goods house. Since 2009, he has taught masters students at the fashion department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In 2013, he opened his DVS boutique, where he sells creations by other designers as well as his own. In 2019, he won the Belgian Fashion Awards jury prize for his personal and unique way of working in a rapidly changing fashion sector.
Van Saene presented his silhouettes on mechanical mannequins that turned slowly, allowing the details to attract viewers’ attention. He renamed the collection Black Sissi and photographed the collection in Austria, where the centenary death of the famous Empress Sissi was being commemorated.
Surrealistic trompe-l’oeil elements and humorous winks of the eye to the stylistic characteristics of French haute couture are recurring elements in the work of Dirk Van Saene. With his Fake Tailoring collection for Autumn-Winter 1998-99, Van Saene sought ways to make the clothes flatter, for example by incorporating lapels and collars into the front sections of the garments.
In his 1991 Spring-Summer collection, Dirk Van Saene employed such everyday materials as kitchen gloves, bandages and plastic tablecloths. By applying the techniques and codes of French haute couture to such banal materials, he imbued his creations with a gracious sense of humour.
Van Saene regularly works with makeup artist Inge Grognard and photographer Ronald Stoops on photo shoots for which Van Saene does the styling himself. With dark-rimmed eyes, model Kristina De Coninck presented his 1989-90 Autumn-Winter collection, illustrating his predilection for character heads.
A PAINTER’S SIGNATURE
Dirk Van Saene inherited his predilection for colour and brushwork from his artistic family. His uncle Maurice Van Saene was an abstract expressionist painter. Dirk Van Saene’s paintings are often colourful flowers and portraits. For his 2016 Spring-Summer collection, he printed his floral painting, I Am Mad, on silk, which he subsequently transformed into a short dress with cut-on sleeves.
Dirk Van Saene’s painter’s signature was already present in his graduation collection, in the form of hand-painted fabrics, and has in recent years come especially to the fore in dresses that he decorates with prints of his own paintings. His affinity with visual art is also apparent in his sources of inspiration, ranging from the abstract visual language of Ellsworth Kelly and sculptures by Louise Bourgeois to African and South American art.
THE PRIVATE UTOPIA
In addition to ceramics created by Dirk Van Saene, the Rik Wouters & The Private Utopia exhibition at MoMu also included an overview of Van Saene’s fashion collections, based on 15 silhouettes. These were preceded by an impressive carpet, also designed by Van Saene and inspired by elements from his daily life, including his neighbour’s cats and birds and plants in his garden. The carpet was hand-tufted by the Belgian firm of Limited Edition in Moeskroen.
Author: Romy Cockx
Photo above: Ronald Stoops; Make-up: Inge Grognard