In 2013, Walter Van Beirendonck was co-curator for the exhibition Happy Birthday Dear Academy, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the fashion department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He has left an unmistakable impression on this internationally renowned school, as a teacher after 1985 and as head of the department from 2007 to 2022. He himself is a 1980 graduate, and he not long thereafter enjoyed his breakthrough as one of the Antwerp Six. From 1993 through 1999 he designed the W.&L.T. (Wild and Lethal Trash) line for Mustang, the German jeans manufacturers, which was geared towards the rapidly growing youth segment. From 2007 to 2011, Van Beirendonck was creative director for Scapa Sports. He has moreover continued to design in his own name.
Van Beirendonck’s early collections include many knitted fabrics and other elements that would continue to influence his signature, including references to sadomasochism, sexuality, ethnography and cartoons.
THE WILD 1990S
After his dog Sado died, Walter Van Beirendonck created a new mascot. Amongst the Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea, the word Puk means crocodile. As an alter ego with extra-terrestrial origins, notably the planet Dork, Puk Puk can do and say whatever he likes. He shows up in videos, on clothing and on invitations, even in the form of a watch in the Welcome Little Stranger collection.
In the third part of the Killer/Astral Travel/4D-Hi-D collection for Spring-Summer 1996, Van Beirendonck tells a tragic love story in which the familiar Alpine character Heidi falls in love with a goat, which turns out to be the incarnation of the devil and symbolic of the advancing HIV virus. On the catwalk, the models wore stuffed masks, bearing such texts as 'Terror Time' and 'Get Off My Dick'. The visual strategy in which the darker side of the sweet and naïve is revealed was intended to elicit a shock effect, and recurs regularly in Walter Van Beirendonck’s work, in part inspired by the art of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.
Under the name W.&L.T., Walter Van Beirendonck creates a colourful aesthetic in which he combines his predilection for technology, multimedia and high-tech materials, such as neoprene and reflecting textiles, with high-profile slogans that draw attention to social themes, such as ecology or HIV. His shows are futuristic spectacles or party scenes with quirky casts who flaunt the normative idea of beauty. His models have a variety of body shapes, ranging from muscular bodybuilders and big bears to tender boys, fantasy figures and frail girls.
WONDERLAND COLLECTION, AUTUMN -WINTER 1996-97
Visible through a transparent jacket is a pink T-shirt with black bands bearing the texts, 'Space Bambie', 'Alienate', 'Color', 'Stars', 'W<', 'Kiss the Future' and 'Wild and Lethal Trash'.
EXPLICIT COLLECTION SPRING-SUMMER 2009
Grass appears again in the eXplicit collection, now in the form of a beard.
Walter Van Beirendonck has a love of science fiction, the supernatural and spirituality. In his collections, he regularly combines aliens and references to E.T., Men in Black and The X-Files, together with ethnic motifs. He invites us to look at the whole universe with new eyes. Through the extraterrestrial, the designer calls our attention to natural phenomena and environmental issues. The alien in Welcome Little Stranger, for Spring-Summer 1997, for example, is wearing a wig made of grass.
SADOMASOCHISM WITH A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
Many of Walter Van Bierendonck’s collections have references to SM and fetishism, with latex masks, bodysuits, lacings, corsets and stiletto heels for men. His first collection, as did his pet bull terrier who was depicted on the clothes and invitations, bore the name Sado. In his Paradise Pleasure Productions collection for Autumn-Winter 1995-96, he called attention to safe sex by wrapping his models entirely in latex.
When his collaboration with Mustang ended in 1999, Walter Van Beirendonck needed to work on a smaller scale and focused on experiments in form. The collections he has since presented under his own name reveal his contrarian attitude towards tailoring and dressmaking, as well as exceptional attention to details that evoke rich fantasy worlds. He finds inspiration in nature, in art forms from around the world and in the work of artists Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy and Erwin Wurm.
Author: Romy Cockx
Photo above: Ronald Stoops