The Antwerp 6+
In 1986, a group of young Belgian designers drive their work over to London for the British Designers Show. Their slick, eye-catching presentations and ground-breaking designs catch the attention of the UK fashion press who dub them the 'Antwerp Six' – in part as a way to get around their tongue-twisting polysyllabic names. Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Dirk Van Saene, Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten will go on to show individually in Paris, as in 1989, will their contemporary Martin Margiela, who has been working as an assistant to Jean-Paul Gaultier.
The ‘Six’ and Margiela (later referred to as the 6+) graduated from the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Academy in 1980, '81 and '82; even then they were regarded as something of a revolutionary force. As students they had their eye on the international scene – in particular cutting-edge designers like Mugler, Montana and Gaultier – and pushed to bring this spirit into their work and presentations at the Academy, rather to the horror of their professors.
By the end of the decade, the 6+ in Paris are being championed by key fashion journalists including Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, and by ultra hip magazines like The Face. Such is their influence, that Menkes later described them as having defined the style of the 1990s.
Many of the ‘Six’ will continue to live and work in Antwerp for the coming decades. Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester will base their headquarters in the city, as will Walter Van Beirendonck, who will go on to become head of the Fashion Department at the Academy.