Tailored, sport luxe, street casual and more: men have never had such a choice of looks to play with – nor such a fascinating range of designers to provide them. It’s intriguing to note that among the names making the biggest waves are several from Belgium, who have built on the fashion achievements of the influential ‘Antwerp Six’ – Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Dirk van Saene and Dries Van Noten – to create some of the most dynamic menswear around today.
Tim Coppens is a relatively new name on the fashion scene, having launched his namesake label only in 2011, but he is currently at the head of a new guard of intellectual-menswear designers. Born and raised in Belgium, Coppens graduated from the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten van Antwerpen in 1998, and followed this with stints at Bogner and Adidas in Germany. After moving to New York in 2008, Coppens became design director for RLX, transforming the Ralph Lauren concept line into one of its most fashion-forward offerings.
Debuting on the New York Fashion Week schedule this season, fresh from being named Best New Menswear Designer 2012 by Ecco Domani, Coppens presented an autumn/winter 2013/14 collection that was streetwear at its smartest, with his sports background an obvious influence in the sweatshirts, bomber jackets and cut-out panels.
Philippe Pourhashemi, a respected fashion writer and consultant based in Brussels, believes there are three other designers currently reshaping the menswear scene in Belgium. Krjst is one of them, and its two founders appreciate the baton that has been passed to them by their predecessors.
‘Art, culture and fashion are in motion in Belgium and Krjst is in line with the new vibes of creation. We have learned a lot from the established designers’ avant-gardism and innovation,’ they say. ‘There has always been this kind of vibration among Belgium fashion designers and we are hoping to be a part of it.’
‘They’ are Justine de Moriamé and Erika Schillebeeckx, alumni of Brussels’ École nationale supérieure des arts visuels de La Cambre. Each has a different approach to the design process but, crucially, both see fashion as a platform for expression. Their pieces are unisex, believing as they do that future societies will be androgynous.
Inspired by ‘the eclectic side to Brussels’ and ‘travelling through their small country’, the collections are bold and eye catching. Though the brand is very young, it has not gone unnoticed, winning Modo’s New Generation Fashion award 2012, and plans to relocate to a workshop-come-showroom for further exposure.
Daniel Andresen specialises in knitwear, with a lightness to his garments which reflects his desire to create movement in each piece. The Antwerp-based designer is another graduate of the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten van Antwerpen and was awarded the Flanders Fashion Institute’s grand prize in his final year.
A spell in Hamburg working in knitwear design and production eventually led him back to Belgium for a placement with Hilde Frunt, where he perfected his design process. Launching his own label in 2010, Andresen was invited to present his first menswear collection in collaboration with RA, the concept store launched by Romain Brau and Anna Kushnerova as a platform and showcase for emerging talent. His elegant collections are now sold in exclusive stores such as Dover Street Market in London, 10 Corso Como in Seoul and Lift in Tokyo.
‘The people of Antwerp each have their own distinct, sophisticated, unique style and way of presenting themselves to the outside world on a daily basis,’ Andresen says. ‘It’s important to embellish individuality in all the pieces from the collection, so they can take on a new life exclusive to each person in the way they adapt to the garment and present its features externally.’
Jan-Jan Van Essche – stocked in RA in Belgium as well as Hostem in London and Nen Xavier in Rotterdam – doesn’t do ‘seasons’ in the traditional way. He chooses instead to work on capsule collections, each a continuation of the last, which transcend autumn/winter and spring/summer, and are influenced by ethnic traditions and Van Essche’s experience of city life.
The designer met his creative partner Piëtro Celestina during their studies at the Royal Academy and they have been building on their joint love of aesthetics since graduating. Everything is handmade in Belgium in limited numbers, meaning that each item is special indeed.
In addition to the main collections is Project #1, launched during Paris Menswear Fashion Week and consisting of relaxed pieces. This experimental approach is a clear sign of the confidence that’s running through Belgium’s menswear scene at the moment – and men everywhere are set to benefit.