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What I know about Walter van Beirendonck

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September, 22nd, 2011

What I know about Walter van Beirendonck

by Kuki de Salvertes

It was in the middle of the 80’s during the men’s collections in Milan that the work of Walter van Beirendonck first caught my attention.

Freshly graduated from the Royal Academy of Anvers, he was at the time freelancing for a new line by Gianfranco Ferré, “Rhinocerus Rex”. I was instantly drawn to the freshness of the colours and the energy of the prints; it was so different from anything else you could have seen at the time. And I loved it instantly.

photos : Chris Rugge, Ronald Stoops, Dan Lecca and Ambroise.

But what could I do? At the time I was in charge of the European press for Moschino and Vivienne Westwood, so I had very little freedom.

In 1992, I decided to take a plunge and create my own press agency: TOTEM. From the start the idea was, and still is, to introduce the fashion scene with new talents, new perspectives, as unexpected and without limits! Naturally, I contacted Walter van Beirendonck. The date set, I travelled to Anvers for the first time in my life and what a shock it was!!!

I found myself face to face with Walter van Beirendonck, whom I had never met at the time. Before me stood a man of my height, impressive, bearded and covered in ethnic jewellery and bright colours. The look was tough, but I could read kindness and sympathy in his eyes and smile.

His studio was quite small a room on ground floor, it was winter and I recall we were freezing. His mother, who was always by his side, was knitting samples for his next collection. His sister and two aunts were equally working. The atmosphere was cosy and very warm, completely in contrast with the strong image Walter emanated.

We fell into each others arms and decided immediately to collaborate. During the same period, Walter was approached by German denim giant Mustang about launching a new line of jeans in sync with the desires and expectations of the youth of the time.

That is how the brand W&L.T was born.

It was then that everything started for him as well as me. With Mustang, we had the chance to really envision and plan projects at the measure of Walter van Beirendonck’s ideas.

From there succeeded a number of collections and fashion shows that have stayed in memory for the innovation in the clothes as well as the scenographic concepts created.

My relationship with Walter dates back; 20 years. Two decades quite impossible to resume in such few words. These last years have seen the evolution of the fashion scene, the universalization of expectations and tastes at the expense of individuality in thinking. It is a sad thing to notice how sometimes extreme creativity can marginalise a designer, being a visionary isn’t at the grasp of everyone. Walter is one, and a few others…

However, it is reassuring to see through the retrospective honouring him and his 20 years of creation at the MOMU in Anvers just how much this man has always been a leader in strong ideas and has never deviated from his codes and choices.

Even if these twenty years with Walter have been essentially spent in the name of work, it is no less the story of two men sharing the same ideas and values, but also the same view of fashion, the world and their times.

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