If Bruges is the grand old aunt of Belgium with its lace shops, quaint canals and quiet afternoons sipping tea in medieval squares, then Antwerp is surely the hip young cousin. Students in edgy fashions traverse the pedestrianised streets on vintage bicycles. Hipsters congregate at the city’s many concept stores or understated bars of bare wood and strong beer.
Much of its street cred is down to one institution: the fashion school at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which in 1986 turned the port city of half a million into one of the coolest places on the planet when a team of its graduates – known as the Antwerp Six – took London Fashion Week by storm.
Nearly three decades later, and Antwerp remains as edgy as ever, with the fashion school drawing pupils from all over the world keen to emulate the success of Belgian designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten.
And now the city is showing its appreciation. “Happy Birthday Dear Academie,” billboards around Antwerp read as the fashion school celebrates 50 years since it opened its doors. The Museum of Fashion is hosting an exhibition featuring work by some of the academy’s most famous alumni.
The academy’s aim? To keep Antwerp free of fashion clones, Walter Van Beirendonck, one of the Antwerp Six, tells the Flanders News website. He said: “For us it’s very important that everybody expresses him or herself in their own style and develops their own signature both in drawing and in fashion.”