Interview by María Baños

Fashion is a way to express what we feel, what we see and believe. It’s a way of communication. Was this your goal when your started your adventure in the Fashion Industry? The visual impact as way of communication?

COMMUNICATION was the main reason why I started thinking of studying fashion.

I was mainly fascinated by the act and look of DAVID BOWIE, there were such an incredible amount of messages in his work, music, make-up and clothes....which overwhelmed me in my teenage years. Clothes were from the very first moment, my way to communicate. A communication tool that I used a lot in my collections and shows.

And so you did in many interesting ways. The world has described you as ‘Always visionary’ mixing contrast materials, from plastic arts to real nature. And your vibrant palette of extravagant shapes. But in your very own words:

Who is Walter van Beirendonck?

I feel like an artist who chose fashion to express himself. But I also found out that fashion by itself was not enough for me. That's why i work on other projects too: curating exhibitions,dance and opera costumes, collaborations with other artists, projects like IKEA…I love to push myself into NEW directions.


Such a different projects and ideas but always one same direction. Does your design have a style, an icon, a term?

I would say FREEDOM.

I want to express in my work total freedom.

Freedom of mind. But also freedom of expression. Freedom to be creative. Freedom in our daily lives.

I have always been fascinated by ’The Antwerp Six’. How this gang began and why?

PUNK was a state of mind by that time.

And when I was confronted with this amazing PHENOMENA, back in London in 1976, I was so amazed to see such a NEW and REBELLIOUS attitude rising from the streets.

We were studying together around that period, and all the extremely strong statements and expressions that happened in fashion were connected to Punk. And that was a fantastic stimulation to be creative but to INDIVIDUAL above all.

After that year in London, we were 'together' as a kind of spontaneous band for almost 10 years.

We discovered together so many AMAZING things,

We travelled together

We learned together

We experienced together

We chaired so much together

and this SYNERGY between all of us was extremely important for each individual statement and our very own evolution. 


Do you consider Margiela part of The Six? What’s the connection between his work and yours?

Martin was together with me in the class, a school year before Dirk, Dirk, Dries, Ann and Marina arrived in school.

I have so many nice memories from my first year together with Martin.

So we were already good friends,when the rest of the six arrived.

We were always ‘The Seven’ but it changed when Martin moved to Paris to work for Gaultier and we moved to show in London. So I love to call this phenomena The Six + 1.

Are your Belgian roots connected to the way you create?

Back in the 70s we were desperate to get out of Belgium - it felt as a prison that early period.

The lack of proper magazines gave us a very limited voice.

Only when we went to UK, we got our first international features.

Of course we have all Belgian roots, but we always felt very universal, always open-minded for new cultures and adventures.


It’s true that your collections have a global approach. They are more like a Visual-Manifesto, a protest, a run-away-communication channel that describes what is actually happening around us. Positive things but also critical things. What’s your message and goal behind each piece?

I think everyone who have 'a voice' and can communicate with their audience, should use this voice to create an statement about our world.

Should motivate the audience to start thinking. This is the first step to change the world.

Through all my collections, since the beginning, I was very aware about the world around me.

Problematics and topics as aids, nature-problems, gender, political issues, freedom of expression, ecological issues, sex, different body-shapes, beauty, terror / stop terrorising our world, stop copy-cats, fast fashion…

These topics were included in my (colorful) collections. Not in a DOOMY way but to start up a conversation with press and costumers.

I recently did for Rei Kawakubo a series of T-shirts with self-made collages featuring slogans about the Human Rights.

They are available under the label W:A.R (Walter: About Rights).

They are now available in all the DoverStreetMarket and Trading Museum shops. 

How would you describe your upcoming collection FW17?

Zwart means BLACK in flemish.

The collection is a reaction to the dramatic evolution of the world.

A world where terror, incidents, political corruption, disasters and hate are becoming a daily reality,

where tolerance is hard to find and where diversity seems to be problematic...

Indeed we are living a really rare time but I also believe we -humans- are more conscious than ever about it: gender equality, our relation with nature, our spiritual connection.  Three things that describe also the way you create. This new collection you featured the ‘Hand’, such an antic and deep symbol that means: Balance. Choice. Contrast. Justice. Tell us more about it.

You are right. I included the Big Hand Shamanistic feeling in the collection, a suggestion to try to purify the world and get rid of all this bad spirits....

The inspiration came from an image from the INUIT, a beautiful SHAMAN with big wooden hands.

I'm using the hand-symbol, together with eyes, animals, sun and moon...

All spiritual references always appear somehow in all my collections.

It’s a fact! Your pieces are a colourful declaration, connecting experimental art, raw reality and spirituality. Also the word ‘Beauty’ appears many times in your work.

Described in collections, written on shirts…What means beauty for you?

BRUTAL BEAUTY was the most recent word-play on beauty I used.

BEAUTY is such a fantastic word. It is such a flexible idea with so many different interpretations.

I do like to use the word. Even if in my unconventional and sometimes brutal approach of fashion, beauty and aesthetic norms are very important.

Despite the adventurous experiments in fashion, the right balance and the relation with the body are extremely important for me.

Nowadays, when copy and paste is the rule and art become ephemeral. Do you think is more and more difficult to stay true to who we are?

I hate this copy-cat mentality in the fashion-world.

It is flattening the whole fashion-world and the experience of wearing nice clothes.

Luckily there are still a few independent designers, with a strong vision, that can make the difference. It is a battle between Goliath and David!

I really hope there is still room for big doses of creativity like yours and this world is open to re-discover people who want to make an impact, who want to change the way of doing things - like you did. One last tip for all the creative survivors?


Interview by María Baños
Contributing Editor