In Antwerp, Royal Academy of Fine Arts Students Wear Their Art to Class

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The fashion department at Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp is undoubtedly one of the most prestigious fashion design programs in the world. With a reputation for instilling an avant garde sensibility and high standards of creative excellence, the institution has an impressive alumni to match, like Martin Margiela, Demna Gvasalia, and Kris van Assche, as well as the infamous Antwerp Six that include Ann Demeulemeester and Dries van Noten.

“The freedom and one-to-one way of tutoring, as well as placing importance on storytelling, is what I love about Antwerp,” says former student and Antwerp Six member Walter Van Beirendonck, who is currently the academy’s head of fashion. “We believe in the power of creativity, and that it can make a difference.”

At the end of September, schools and universities in Belgium reopened their doors with social-distancing precautions in place. But less than a month later, after photographing this story, the entire country went into its second lockdown. Here, the students share their experiences of remote coursework and virtual tutorials, as well as how it felt physically returning to the Academy (albeit for one month only) and, of course, what they wore to mark the momentous occasion.

Laura Meier Hagested, 24, BA fashion, year two

Laura Meier HagestedRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing a vintage Prada skirt, a Walter Van Beirendonck sweater, vintage Gucci boots, my boyfriend’s Celine coat, and my jewelry is vintage except the rabbit ring, which is by the Danish designer Olga Bonne.

What do you love about your university?

I’m being guided and pushed, but, at the same time, set free to do what I never thought I’d be able to do.

How did it feel to be temporarily back at university?

It really made a difference to physically see everyone. Presenting your work in person gives a different kind of satisfaction.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

It was challenging to feel enthusiastic about my own work. I am very analogue, so designing for the camera does not interest me.

Byron Wang, 20, BA fashion, year one

Chen Ting Wang, ByronRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing a navy blue double-breasted suit with a white ruched jabot shirt, black and white straight-leg trousers, and a pair of white leather boots.

What do you love about your university?

Antwerp Academy is full of history and heritage, and it’s cultivated brilliant artists and designers while upholding tradition and craftsmanship.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

With digital presentations, people can’t really feel that sensation of any fabric, as fashion requires physical contact. I think we will figure it out one day though.

What song sums up your 2020?

Yves Montand’s Les Feuilles Mortes.

Cezary Zalit, 22, BA fashion, year three

Cezary ZalitRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing a white shirt that I made for an assignment a while ago, a black pleated skirt made out of fabric scraps, asymmetrical earrings, and a thrifted long black coat.

What do you love about your university?

I love the freedom of artistic expression, alongside the understanding approach of the teachers.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

Obtaining materials, as non-essential vendors such as fabric and stationery stores were all shut.

What song sums up your 2020?

My entire year could be summed up with just a single song: K by Cigarettes After Sex.

Angelika Öllinger, 24, MA fashion

Angelika OllingerRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing an Ann Demeulemeester jacket, a long black shirt, vintage menswear trousers that I altered myself, and black heels. I like combining menswear and womenswear, which you can also see in my work. It’s all about contrasts.

What do you love about your university?

The creative freedom and the learning-by-doing way of teaching.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

It’s hard to get some pattern support over Skype, and it’s also hard presenting your garments via a screen on a doll.

What album sums up your 2020?

German DJ Ben Böhmer’s album Live From Printworks London.

Ching-Lin Chen, 28, BA fashion, year three

Ching-Lin ChenRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing a wool suit, velvet sweater, jeans, and leather shoes, all from thrift store Think Twice in Antwerp. My accessories are by my friend who’s a jewelry designer in Taiwan.

What do you love about your university?

Everything you can imagine is possible in the fashion department.

How did it feel to be temporarily back at university?

I was a bit nervous because the world is still in a very serious situation.

What album sums up your 2020?

Kinakaian by Abao, an Indigenous singer from Taiwan.

Franziska Prohaska, 22, BA fashion, year two

Franziska ProhaskaRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing a wool coat and blazer from my mother, a wrinkled and dyed shirt, transparent long sleeve silk shirt underneath, my favorite pair of jeans worn inside out, and pointed leather boots. Everything I’m wearing is second hand.

What do you love about your university?

The curriculum provides a perfect mixture between fine arts and fashion design, that’s why I chose to study here.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

Fashion is a very hands-on subject, that’s why one of the main problems was showing our work properly.

What movie sums up your 2020?

David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake.

Igor Dieryck, 21, BA fashion, year three

Igor DieryckRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing my favorite sweater from Dries van Noten, an oversized shirt I stole from my dad, thrift shop trousers, Raf Simons hybrid sneakers, and my lucky underwear, which I keep for nice occasions like this interview.

How did it feel to be temporarily back at university?

Frustrating. We couldn’t hug each other, but at least we were able to discuss our work in an almost normal way.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

Showing results over the phone was challenging. A hundred different white fabrics look the same on a Skype or a Zoom call, and it was difficult to order fabric for the same reason.

What album sums up your 2020?

Gore by Lous and The Yakuza.

Jasmin Bandomer, 27, MA fashion

Jasmin BadomerRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

Since my hair has become whiter, I’ve started enjoying wearing white. I combined a translucent white jacket with leather boots and the leggings in the same color.

What do you love about your university?

The high expectations in creative ideas and the quality of clothes. Students are also extremely enthusiastic and passionate, which really motivates me.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

I realized how much I’m inspired when I’m walking on the street and seeing what people are wearing. Being alone at home in pajamas is really not inspiring.

What song sums up your 2020?

During the summer, I was listening to Winter Wind (Étude Op.25, No.11) by Chopin repeatedly, and that became the topic of my master’s collection. Music is often a starting point for my work.

Sandra Ogiolda, 28, BA fashion, year one

Sandra OgioldaRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing a black turtleneck, a semi-sheer virgin wool Maison Margiela top, Bermuda pants I made myself, a deconstructed black vintage trench coat that I made, a ruby dégradé scarf from Morocco, and vintage Givenchy cowboy boots.

What do you love about your university?

It’s an environment that feels like an interdisciplinary hybrid of creative energy with no limits to learning.

How did it feel to be temporarily back?

It’s my first year and it’s been quite an unusual start. My class had to split into four groups, so I haven’t yet met most of my classmates. It does urge our creativity in a new and unknown way, though.

What sums up your 2020?

Ciel Brouillé (Cloudy Sky), a melancholy and subtly auspicious poem by Charles Baudelaire.

Marcel Sommer, 24, BA fashion, year two

Marcel SommerRobin Joris Dullers

Describe your look.

I’m wearing black leather ankle boots by Marni, a grey turtleneck in fine knit and a long black wool coat with pocket flap-belt finishing, both made-to-measure by Cos.

What do you love about your university?

The atmosphere we feel when we all work together. We feel a bit closer to the big names of the famous graduates of the academy, knowing that they did the same assignments and got taught by the same people.

What were some challenges of doing coursework remotely?

The lack of exchanges because the way to grow is by conversations with teachers and fellow students.

What film sums up your 2020?

Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day.