dirk van saen

Dirk Van Saene autumn—winter 1990—91.

He graduated from the Academy of Antwerp in 1981 and intrepidly opened his own boutique Beauties & Heroes, where he sold his own creations, until he snapped up almost all the prizes at the Golden Spindle contest. The next year, as one of the ‘Antwerp Six’, he proceeded to the British Designer Show in London, and in 1989 took part in their collective show. Later, in 1990-1991, they shared their showroom presentation in Paris. In March 1990 he organized his first show in Paris with the Dirk Van Saene collection.

As a radical aesthete, he is one of the rare designers who ‘attacks’ fashion strictly from tailoring, developing it into a profusion and rapid succession of consequences. One collection may hold a range of ideas which would suffice an entire design career — as he says himself, he gives it everything. Consequently he is sometimes called a man of more than nine lives, capricious, elusive…  

Dirk Van Saene approaches fashion ‘ad hoc’, adhering closely to its essence: couture. Moreover, he works with a drive that shrugs aside any intellectuel or ‘mythical’ approach. Should there be any imagery or dialectic in his collections, it will invariably be ironic or qualifying. At his first show in Paris for Winter 1990-1991, his staff wore T-shirt bearing his name, misspelt in different ways.

Hello! I’m Matthew Domescek, Assistant Editor at A Magazine Curated By, and this week I will curate SHOWStudio’s blog on behalf of A Magazine. A Magazine Curated By gives a designer our 200 pages to cultivate a vision of their world, inviting friends and colleagues to contribute to their issue. This, along with our digital news, aims to explore the intersections of fashion with curation, art, history, and culture at large. 

I will be sharing my favourite images from previous editions of our print magazine, special collaborations we have shared with artists, and an eclectic mix of media relevant to the magazine’s oeuvre.

You can find A Magazine Curated By here: 1 2 3

and me here: 1 2


This first image is a picture I took in the apartment of our current editor-in-chief, Dan Thawley. It is an unopened copy of Issue 0, A Magazine Curated By Dirk van Saene, one of the ‘Antwerp Six’ designers, in 2001. 

Dirk Van Saene autumn—winter 1998—99.

He renamed his Fake Tailoring collection for Winter 1998—1999 the Black Sissi collection for his catalogue, and had the garments photographed on a black dummy, against the gemütlich decor of the Austrian Alps. 

Anyone looking for some fixed, logical development in his sequence of collections will not find it. Some samples of the ‘Van Saene Variations’: in theFake Tailoring collection lapels and collars had seams and separate pattern sections worked into the clothing. These sober and elegant ‘etched’ pieces had been preceded a season earlier by a hectic Transformations collection (Summer 1998), in which nothing was what it seemed, each item could be transformed into something else or worn in very different ways. During the show, the ‘transformation ‘of the models did not take place behind the scenes: they were dressed, made up, had their hair done, on the runway, in full view of the public. 

Dirk Van Saene: I base my collections on craftsmanship. I use the wildest ideas to put craftsmanship to the test. When I’m finalising my prototypes I’m constantly faced by technical problems. I’m always searching for the best solution. It might be very traditional but could be something completely new. It doesn’t matter a bit. It’s the result that counts.

Dirk Van Saene autumn—winter 1998—99.

He renamed his Fake Tailoring collection for Winter 1998—1999 the Black Sissi collection for his catalogue, and had the garments photographed on a black dummy, against the gemütlich decor of the Austrian Alps. 

Anyone looking for some fixed, logical development in his sequence of collections will not find it. Some samples of the ‘Van Saene Variations’: in the Fake Tailoring collection lapels and collars had seams and separate pattern sections worked into the clothing. These sober and elegant 'etched’ pieces had been preceded a season earlier by a hectic Transformations collection (Summer 1998), in which nothing was what it seemed, each item could be transformed into something else or worn in very different ways. During the show, the 'transformation 'of the models did not take place behind the scenes: they were dressed, made up, had their hair done, on the runway, in full view of the public. 

Dirk Van Saene: I base my collections on craftsmanship. I use the wildest ideas to put craftsmanship to the test. When I’m finalising my prototypes I’m constantly faced by technical problems. I’m always searching for the best solution. It might be very traditional but could be something completely new. It doesn’t matter a bit. It’s the result that counts.

Dirk Van Saene spring—summer 1991.

Bill Cunningham once wrote in The New York Times about the 1991 summer collection: “Mr. Van Saene’s clothes are distinguished by a gentle sweetness, like laundry hung out in a Swiss backyard with an alpine meadow in the distance.” That comment possibly gets to the very essence of Dirk Van Saene’s master craftmanship. He succeeds in capturing in his clothes, however complex and inventive their construction, however perfect their finish, however far-fetched and unexpected their appearance, the essential feeling of companionship, the impromptu, the playfulness, sensuality and almost comforting nature of a piece of textile. 

Dirk Van Saene: Let’s face it. The main aim of presenting a collection on a catwalk is to get the press excited, so they write about it and publish pictures of it! The theatrical bit is an attempt to make it different from all those other shows…

British Designer Show. Impressions of Dirk Van Saene’s stand, with Ann Demeulemeester’s collection of sunglasses, London, 1986.

The money the Six earned from commercial jobs went straight into their own colletions: the dream was to establish their own label. The ITCB had helped to create a lot of positive press attention for the group, but a real connection hadn’t been made in the Belgian industry, and the Antwerp Six were seen as eccentric, rather difficult designers, often rejecting the textiles they were given and preferring Italian fabrics. Their orientation was international, as Dirk BIkkembergs states in a 1985 interview: ‘My suitcases are packed and I’m ready to go.’ Nevertheless, in 1986, Dirk Bikkembergs started an avant-garde shoe collection for men, to be sold at Eddy Michiels and Geert Bruloot’s shop, Coccodrillo. His manufacturer needed more than this to agree to the production of these 'outré’ shoes. So Geert Bruloot, who’d prepared the set designs for the Golden Spindle and had been working with Dries van Noten and Walter van Beirendonck since 1985, had the idea of going to a fashion fair at the Olympia in London, with the goal of selling the shoes to the cooler shops in the UK’s capital. The energy in London’s city streets seemed a better match than Paris. Walter van Beirendonck decided to join in the adventure. Ann stayed in Belgium because she was about to give birth to her son, but she sent along her collection of sunglasses. They all rented a booth on the fourth floor among the bridal wear at the British Designer Show.