The Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten van Antwerpen) is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe. It was founded in 1663 by David Teniers the Younger, painter to the Archduke Leopold and Don Juan of Austria.
By the sixties, in our present century, general opinion had stopped considering the “applied arts” to be of lesser value than the “traditional arts”. In accordance with the spirit of the times, a number of new departments were added to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts: graphic design, photography, jewelry design, ceramic arts and Fashion design. Mary Prijot championed the establishment of a fully- fledged fashion department within the Academy. She gave the fashion department an international appeal and set very high creative standards, both for fashion drawing and later, for fashion design. Together with Marthe Van Leemput, who added the subjects of tailoring and pattern design to the curriculum, she drew a blueprint for the fashion department, a plan which still serves its purpose extremely well. Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van Saene, Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela are designers who graduated from the Academy in the beginning of the eighties, when the fashion department was under the patronage of Mary Prijot.
In the beginning of the eighties, the fashion world and the international media started to get interested in Antwerp fashion designers. From then on, the fashion department of the Royal Academy shared in this international interest, not in the least because of the continuous quality of the collections designed by some of the aforementioned now famous ex-students and a new generation of designers as Veronique Branquinho, A.F. Vandevorst, Stephan Schneider, Bernhard Willhelm, Christian Wijnants, Bruno Pieters, Tim Van Steenbergen, Peter Pilotto, Les Hommes/ Bart Van Den Bossche and Tom Notte, Haider Ackermann, Kris Van Assche amongst many others.
The fashion department of the Antwerp Academy sees fashion in the broadest sense of the word, as a form of expression of the emotions of our times. Clothing reflects society or, adversely, questions it. Fashion people are not a self-absorbed clique, but committed people who question prevailing concepts of ethics and aesthetics and take a stand for or against aggression, rejection, denial, helplessness. In fashion, there is a freedom of expression which can at times be shocking, alarming, astounding or tempting.
The training provided by the fashion department stimulates innovation. The media feature new fashions and trends in quick succession so as to keep public interested. The impulse to re-create, to open up new horizons and to overthrow existing concepts is essential and characteristic of our visual culture. Every fashion designer is influenced by this rhythm to a greater or lesser extent. This variety of personal visions and angles keeps fashion alive and fascinating. Above all, this training is aimed, at encouraging the students to create and to explore innovative forms, new colour combinations and original treatments of materials. The approach is focused on experimentation, improvisation and formal innovation. The goal is that the students ultimately achieve an appealing synthesis of all these aspects, on the basis of the professional skills they have acquired.
By nature, a designer has a limitless interest in the unknown and the new, a tendency that we stimulate in our students.
Fashion designers design clothes for a manufacturer or for a brand name, but can also create their own collections. The great difference between the Academy and similar study courses at technical institutes is in the creative approach.
Fashion designers who are trained at an academy and who studied four years with painters, sculptors, graphic designers, and students of other courses, live in a creative artistic atmosphere that leaves a mark on their personality. It requires effort and perseverance. Students are expected to be very good draughtsmen. The study from live model in postures and movements is essential. Students must also show a high degree of originality in their designs. Through form studies, pattern studies, research and graphic work, they have to be able to make their own creations.