Of all the fashion handles in the history of WWD, “Twerp” is probably the least glamorous. But that’s how WWD referred to a group of emerging Belgian designers in the summer of 1987. “I Brake for Twerps” was a feature story in a special July supplement called Scene. “Nothing this exciting has happened in Antwerp, a Belgian Renaissance port city, since Rubens—the painter, not the sandwich,” the paper noted. The Antwerp Six, as they were known, included Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Marina Yee, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Bikkembergs—all alumni of the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and were considered fashion’s next radical wave.
Though associated with avant-garde, intellectual fashion, it is impossible to define them by one catchall aesthetic. “Brooding and darkly romantic”—the adjectives most often bandied about—describe some, Demeulemeester, for example, but not others. Ditto for the term deconstruction, although fellow Belgian Martin Margiela became one of fashion’s most influential designers on that premise. And then there’s Van Noten, who, on the strength of his artful, sportif-bohemian inclinations has thrived commercially while keeping his company fiercely independent. The Antwerp Six opened doors for other Belgian designers, most notably Olivier Theyskens, who after some travails is seeking a new start in the unlikely contemporary realm of Theory, and Raf Simons, who makes minimalism dazzle at Jil Sander.