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What is more ideal than waking up on a Saturday morning knowing that you are going to see for the first time the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp and all the vast work that the Master graduates produced over the school year? I can tell you that for a fashion enthusiast like me, this experience has been a dream. It was such a relief to see that in real life the work of these students reaches high quality without sacrificing any detail of the artistic process. Our schedule for the day was to visit the institution where students had displays showing their work in a personal way, letting us discover their collections and creative worlds before seeing it on the runway.

Some of the most outstanding installations were from the minds of Sofia Hermens Fernandez, Gabrielle Szwarcenberg, Uliana Dobrovskaya and Tim Wirth. Their shared characteristic was the way of curating their exhibition in the most compelling and fitting way for each of their collections. 

Sofia Hermens Fernandez used toile fabric to cover the entire room and make a blank canvas to immerse ourselves in its feminine and predominantly pink world. We could read her thesis on DRESSING LIKE A GIRL – THE FEMINIST REAPPROPRIATION OF GIRLHOOD THROUGH FASHION DESIGN AND TEXTILE ART. Also, looking at her creation up close we could really notice how commercial they are. We hope she has a great fashion career, because for sure she has a point of view and this needs to be expanded on.

In the case of Gabrielle Szwarcenberg, it was one of the most visual experiences we had that morning, her understanding of color and how she translated it to design is impeccable. The way she celebrated with this collection the ingenious and imaginative ways we entertain ourselves with commonplace iconography. She really showed how adaptable the figure of paper can be and how you can create ephemeral  clothing that reminds us to let our inner child come out when it is needed.

Seeing the display of Uliana Dobrovskaya was something that is going to be stuck in my mind for a bit, because of the way she converted a space in fashion school into a tableau vivant of nineties beauty ad campaigns. She really hit on a sweet spot where everyone might feel connected due to the power of nostalgia and the coming-of-age narrative of the collection that might resonate with a lot of us. Elegance in motion is a juxtaposition of desires, ambitions, and insecurities.

Tim Wirth’s space was sterile and purely clinical where he explained to us that his collection is a way to question the necessity to pursue innovation and uniqueness in fashion design. His designs are based on deconstructing the idea of garments and infuse emotional value to them. He was talking about a sense of mystery and significance, to provoke some kind of appreciation for simpler fashion.

I would like to shout out the work of Margot Verstuyft, because her fashion film was the first thing we encountered as we entered the exhibition and really set the tone for us. curtain call really is a celebration of the body in motion, a tribute to the power and beauty of dance. Through her collection, she researched the movement of garments and the work of some contemporary female dancers, captivating and showing us what the mixed between body and music can do. A look into the behind the scene of these worldwide known dancers, a raw vision with layering and lots of knitting.   

In the afternoon, we had the pleasure to attend the Show 2024 where we had an amazing experience where fashion was the center of it. It was long, but it needed to be that long. By the time Master’s collections hit the runway, we were fed but ready for some kind of sweet dessert.

While Anemoia by XueHu Zhang presented an exploration of the intersection between nostalgia, surrealism, and perception with garments that felt like a low-poly game. Yuhei Ueda centers his collection around the use of natural fabric mixed with cutting techniques of workwear to create garments that have a feeling of quality and luxury. The work of Léo Emanueli shines through the dark runway mostly because of his incredible storytelling and his choice of soundtrack, which revitalized the energy of the show. Fully Loaded is a collection that blends roughness with elegance where different atmospheres are merged together to form a new unity.

Pommie Dierick revealed an anticipated collection (since her 3BA pieces last year) built up by stripes, a symbol of strength and uniqueness of her. With WILD HORSES RUN FREE the designer expands on the idea of mental freedom and overcoming any restraint we face in life, embracing our wildest dreams. Peiwen Mao was a visual impact after hours in the same place, she was the last one of the night and her shoes are going to be on my mind for a long time thanks to its strong silhouette and movement. It was a fantasy but a real one.   

Lastly, I wanted to touch on two collections that are stuck with me since the exhibition and fashion show. First, I want to give a shout out to Sofia Rodriguez Rodriguez being so true to herself that she opened to a wide audience, exposing her worst nightmares and her love for craftsmanship. Her confidence with tulle creations and her voluminous fabric manipulations created an explosion from the inside out of the garments, representing nights of panic where her person was out of control. On the other hand, the collection of Jinny Song, called Mother’s Milk, was a whole experience for the eyes. She flooded the catwalk with color and artistry where she encapsulated her love for her mother. The result of this introspection won the Christine Mathys Award and the Momu Award which are great opportunities to start her own brand or gain exposure to become whatever position she wants to be in the industry.

It was so rewarding to see such an amount of talent on a runway show organized by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, where Demna, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester graduated back in the day. I was so honored to see the work of future fashion leaders’ and to be able to bring a new audience to their work. This was a great opportunity and I wanted to thank you to Flanders DC and to the school for inviting us to discover one of the most important graduate shows in the world.

Words: @alraco43