Fashion from Antwerp: influence & identity with Flora Miranda
As part of a newer wave of Antwerp Fashion Department graduates, Austrian-born fashion and visual designer Flora Miranda stands out by creating garments at the cutting edge of virtual and multi-dimensional reality. Experimenting from her Antwerp atelier with high-tech, 3D couture techniques, Flora Miranda honed her craft after graduation by working at fashion futurist Iris Van Herpen and made a name for herself, gaining recognition through her work for international museum expos as well as brand partnerships and Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week shows. MoMu talks to Flora Miranda about Antwerp’s reputation and establishing a future-forward practice.
MoMu: What drew you to the Antwerp Fashion Department as an aspiring designer from Salzburg?
Flora Miranda: “I think there is a lot of love for Belgian design in Austria. My mum and aunt were really big Martin Margiela fans, so Belgian fashion was always seen as ‘good taste’. People like Raf Simons, Veronique Branquinho and a lot of other Belgian designers have taught at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Yet I never knew anything about the Antwerp Fashion Academy, I just thought I would study in Vienna. Then my aunt gave me a book by Veerle Windels, ‘Young Belgian Fashion Design’. I found out that all of these major designers actually started out at the same place. So, I said: ‘I'm going there. I'm going to the roots of what I love.’ Another major part of the decision to leave was that I was originally painting a lot. Only later on did I decide to study fashion. I loved the Old Masters, especially those from the Benelux, like Vermeer and Van Eyck. I just felt attracted to this part of the world. So, I took the entrance exams and moved to Antwerp at 18.”
What was your first impression of the city? You mentioned there was a notion of Antwerp and Belgian fashion representing good taste?
“It still represents that for me and it’s one of the main reasons I'm still here. I think there is quite a cultural match between Belgium and Austria. I don't feel like I’m in a completely different place. But in the beginning, and even now, Antwerp feels just like living inside of a painting. I live close to the art nouveau area in Zurenborg. Those streets are just the most amazing and the sky, the way the light appears, is very different over here.”
How did you go about establishing a network of friends and collaborators?
“I prefer being inside and working hard. I have to motivate myself quite a bit to go out and be social. Even though I felt I was in the right place, surrounded by the right people, I didn't really connect with them at first due to me being shy and young. I made friends and they're still my best friends, but we never felt like we were the cool fashion kids, even if we went out. Then, around third and fourth year, I became more proactive in reaching out to people that I admire and I'm really grateful that I've done that."
And in the end, it worked out. That’s how I started working and becoming friends with people like graphic designer Tom Tosseyn, who designed my logo, or Hantrax, the musician who performed at my Master show and wrote show music for me in 2019, as well as several photographers like Laetitia Bica, Ronald Stoops and more.
Why did you decide to stay in Antwerp after graduating in 2014, was that your plan from the jump?
“I always knew that I would not go back home. Austria has a very high quality of life and in terms of nature, it for sure beats Belgium. But in the beginning, it was more of a practical decision to stay here because I had a basic network here. Rent is affordable. And I wanted to focus all my energy on the craziness that comes along with starting a company. Starting your business here is quite easy but it’s a big challenge to navigate between two countries, since I still also have one foot in Austria, business-wise. I have the impression both countries are not prepared to hand out information to people who are active in more than one country. And that's very challenging.”
Was staying in Antwerp also important to you because of the fashion legacy the generations before you have built up here? Do you feel like the Antwerp name still carries weight internationally, and more so or less so today?
“Graduating from the Academy is a kind of ticket in, right? Everybody in the world of fashion knows what that means. It says that you are especially shaped in a creative way and some companies prefer that – others don't. For me, it was the motivation to build upon what other designers like Alexander McQueen, Rei Kawakubo or Walter Van Beirendonck did to create an artistic space in fashion."
They established fashion as a form of art so that you can go to an exhibition and don’t have to say: ‘Oh, this dress is so crazy.’ It's still fashion, but it can also be a piece of art. I think for my work especially, that makes sense within the history of Antwerp.
Sometimes it opens doors, but sometimes it doesn't. Have you ever felt there being a bias against young Antwerp graduates?
“Not personally, but you hear people say: ‘Students from Antwerp don't have technical knowledge, or they don’t know about business’. Which can be more or less true, because at the Academy, it’s much more about what you teach yourself than what the school teaches you.”
After graduation, you landed a job at Iris van Herpen. Was that a very conscious step?
“It was. I initially didn't know much about Iris at all, as a designer. I heard people say: ‘The things she does are so complex’. I could see that, but I also could very much understand the work. For me, it was not that difficult-looking. When I finished school, I remember writing an application for Raf Simons and Prada but not really feeling it, you know? Then I saw that Iris was looking for an employee. I was able to attend one of her shows earlier , so I really gained insight into how she presented her work. I was able to apply for the job with a lot of empathy. And it was right, because it all panned out and I ended up working for her and living in Amsterdam.”
As a designer, you’re incredibly tech-minded and forward-leaning. Which future-focused projects are you working on regarding your own label?
“Creativity will always be there for me. So, I've also been building up a commercial line, and my vision is for that part of my business to become more of a creative software company than a fashion line. I am building fully automated workflows with customisable, generated fashion. This includes a fashion database I can let the computer play with. More easily said than done, because it requires a very different skillset from what I learned in school. I really hope that my vision can be translated into a viable, realistic and fruitful business. At this point, it’s more about finding the right investors and team.”
A bold and pioneering move.
“I really feel like it is more scalable than my traditional fashion design work. But even here, it is still creativity that drives me – only I’m being creative with computers.”
What would make it easier for you to approach your craft in a more contemporary way and what role could Antwerp play to facilitate that?
It is nice that Antwerp recognizes that its value in fashion is creativity. But I do wonder: is creativity really what is valued? Because in general, creative work is something that isn't very self-motivational. The actual feeling of success comes simply from how much money you earn and how famous the people that are picking you up are.
That’s maybe something to think about: how can you create a value system for what is ‘creative’ work and find a way to communicate about that? I think that is probably also a challenge for most cities regarding fashion, but it for sure is here.
"There are so many fashion houses and ateliers in Antwerp, but everything happens behind closed doors. Everybody’s on their own island, perhaps out of fear for copycats – but that is not something that scares me. Of course, you cannot force people to come together; but it could be interesting to host evenings where designers can discuss certain topics. Like a brainstorming session, or an open atelier day, where everybody opens up their doors. During the Antwerp stock sales, you can kind of catch a glimpse, but not much. It could be useful to share resources and also just to say: ‘Hey, here’s a problem I’m facing.’”
Would it be most interesting if this designer idea exchange would be with peers or with a mentor? Because there are different chapters within every career.
“For me, it's not only about learning from somebody who has more experience, but also the other way around. I value young people a lot. That's also the reason why I immediately started a business because I think it's good that young people are naïve, you know? They just go for it, bring a lot of energy with them and really understand how things are going to evolve. I think we should involve every generation.”