Alexandra Verschueren, 21. Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, Fashion Graduate 2009.
– specialism: Fashion Womenswear.
I went from high shool straight to the Academy. Since the program is really hands-on, we aren’t really able to study abroad for a semester. And we only have time for internships during the summer.
In the summer between my Bachelor’s degree and Master’s Degree I spent a month in London, interning for Preen. And now I just got back from New York, where I interned a month at Proenza Schouler and afterwards did an apprenticeship for Junior Designer RTW at Derek Lam.
Now I am back home in Antwerp.
My graduate collection was called ‘Medium’.`
I got inspired by the medium paper, after seeing pictures/artworks of Thomas Demand, who recreates objects out of everyday life in paper, and then photographs them. And also by the Youtube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwK3pz1lmJA), in which a couple walks into an appartment and slowly realises everything is made out of paper. In both cases paper is a strong medium to lay bare the artificiality of normal life.
It was never really the intention to put that idea into the garments (they also don’t really refer to that). It was more of an inspiration for a feeling I wanted to put into the garments…I like the philosophy about it, because in everyday life everyone is trying to be as perfect as they can be, even though that’s not necessary. I wanted to break through that. All the garments look really delicate and fragile, on the verge to fall apart.
Maybe in that aspect that idea is visible through the collection and the garments.
Just trying to break through the idea of wanting to be perfect/artificial.
I don’t want to portray fashion as being artificial though. There are a lot of labels/magazines out there that prove the opposite.
But I think the main thing that annoys me is that sometimes there is to much focus on the fashionscene, instead of the whole thought and design process behind it.
That’s why for this collection my concept was paper as it is the starting material for every designer.
You sketch on it, draw on it, make your patterns out of it,…
After that I started thinking how can you translate the idea of ‘paper’ into garments. For the shape I started looking at the Japanese Origamic Architecture by Masahiro Chatani.
For the prints I was inspired by the crude first strokes in children’s drawings, but also ink on blotting paper, chalkboard,…
I really tried to handle my fabric as if it were paper, by pleating, cutting, folding the fabric. And working with fabrics that referred to paper, woolens that don’t unravel and cottons that had lines, squares, rules on it like a notebook.
Where do you get inspiration from in general?
Inspiration can come from a lot of things.
Love, friendships, artists, books,…they all do the trick for me.
Even people can be inspiring.
I look up to people who stay true to themselves, and really do what they love (in all different fields, it doesn’t necessarily need to be fashion, it can also be art, design, architecture, crafts, science, literature,…).
People who want to change something with what they do.
Sandra Backlund, Thomas Demand, Dries Van Noten, Hussein Chalayan, Clyfford Still,…
How is your process when you design?
I can never start working on a project unless I have a solid concept, and inspiration for shapes, colours, atmosphere.
It’s only when I have that aspect covered, the designing can start.
What do you find most difficult about the design process?
The pressure of wanting to always do something extremely innovative.
My experience is that I design best when I stop thinking about what the world around me might say about the designs and I truly design for myself.
What are your strenghts?
I don’t know. I’m quite stubborn and not easily pleased.
I won’t be satisfied until I have achieved what I want.
What are your weaknesses?
Thinking with my heart instead of my head, worrying too much about every little thing, dreaming, and probably much more, but that’s what makes life interesting. Constantly making the same mistakes over and over again.
Describe your collection with three words?
Free, paper, unwearable.
What techniques did you use:
Actually a lot of people think this collection is the result of high tech laser cutting and pleating, folding.
Truth be told, it’s all done quite artisanal. Every little detail is done manually.
I spend hours with my iron making sure all the pleats were made correctly, then I did the folding by hand, ironed again, all the cuts are done manually as well.
The constructions all survive since the fabrics have a lot of starch in them, or some fusing.
That’s why this collection is not really wearable.
I would love to find new techniques to make folds and pleats like the ones in my garments, and make them last (even after washing them).
The prints are also all drawn by hand by me onto the fabric.
The only print that was done digitally is the one on the knitted dress.
Which machines did you use to create your collection?
Which technique was the most difficult?
The pleating wasn’t necessarily difficult but it was really time consuming.
I spend hours/days ironing to get the constructions come to life.
Do you have a technical or conceptual approach to designing?
I think my design approach is rather conceptual.
Which garment was most difficult to make?
The pleated tyvek dress. Since the tyvek didn’t have the right structure for the pleating I wanted to use, it was the most fragile piece of the collection and I made it 4 times until I was fully satisfied (and I have to admit, I am not really that satisfied yet).
Which garment took the longest to make?
The gray cape. It took 4 weeks (but I worked on other things in between as well).
What technique is your favorite?
I actually loved the pleating, it was meditative in a way (although my back hurt after standing benched over my iron machine a whole year).
How long did you work on this project?
A school year. From September until June.
Is there something you regret not doing in your collection?
I regret not having the time to find a way or special fabric that would have made it possible not to use that much starch and fusing, so that this collection would become wearable.
What made you pursue fashion?
At our school we don’t really specialize…That’s what I love about the Antwerp Academy/
Teachers motivate us to try out all different things and techniques.
They expect us to experiment with fabric, colours, knitting, womenswear/menswear, accessories, patterns,…
It’s a really broad education where the emphasis on experiment. Without experiment I don’t think it’s possible to create something groundbreaking.
What designers inspire you?
Sandra Backlund, for doing her own thing in a fashion world that is dominated by it’s fast pace I think it is really important to have designers like here who still try to inspire.
Dries van Noten, for also doing his own thing and really making a statement. His clothes are interesting but still very wearable and make you feel great.
Raf Simons for making ‘fashion’ interesting again.
Hussein Chalayan for thinking about the future of fashion design.
And truth be told I also look up to my teachers at the academy, Walter Van Beirendonck, and Dirk van Saene, for completely sticking out of the fashion circus, and being a bit crazy (in a good way).
Which designer would you like to work for in the future?
All of the above.
Why did you choose Antwerp?
I grew up in Antwerp, and the Antwerp Academy has such a good reputation it would have been stupid not to try out for it.
What did you think of the education?
It was tough, but completely great and made me into the person I am today.
And yes, I am being a bit nostalgic.
During your education, which project has been your favorite?
My graduation collection, since that was the one that was the most interesting one to work on for me.
How were the school? Facilities? Teachers?
The school is absolutely amazing, located in an inspirational building in the heart of Antwerp.
It was great meeting people from all over the world, who come there to study.
And the teachers were tough, but they really want you to push and work hard and achieve something. They’re really supportive that way.
I had my fare share of hard times at the school but looking back at it now I realize how amazing it is to have been able to be in such a great environment for 4 years.
It was like living in your own bubble. It was great.
What advice would you give new students?
Go for it.
Which fellow students would you like to highlight?
Everyones work is completely different and strong in different ways. Discover their work at:
Why do you want to be a designer?
Because I was always kind of a fickle person…One day I wanted to be a doctor, the other a librarian, the other a dancer…And I realised that fashion is a business/artform (?) which combines a lot of different disciplines; more technical ones like sewing and pattern making, more crafty ones like embroidering, knitting, weaving, more personal things likes designing and making prints, then more practical ones like organising shows, getting models dressed,…Just being part of the whole thing is really inspiring and exciting. You never get bored and every day you’re busy working on something else.
Even now that my fashion student days are over, still every day brings different tasks.
I also like that fashion is kind of an art that is accessible to a wider crowd.
What was your childhood dream job?
I wanted to become all sorts of things, I remember wanting to become the typical ballerina, movie star, but also a librarian…Which might explain how I am in real life.
Sometimes I like to stick out (if I have done something I’m proud of), but mostly I just want to hide away at home. It’s a bit weird.
Have you ever been nominated or won a design competition?
I won the FFI award, the Momu Award, and an award from the Foundation Mathilde Horlait Dapsens, who hand out an amount of money for aspiring art students.
With one word, what is your best quality?
Time will tell hopefully.
What are your plans for the future?
Tricky questions. I would love to be able to pursue what I have achieved with my Medium Collection and work on projects for myself.
But realistically I know I need more experience working for more reknowned fashion houses.
It would be great to work for Hussein Chalayan, Dries Van Noten,…
But eventually starting a small label by myself and surviving by doing so sounds like a dream.
Will you be selling your collection?
As of yet I won’t be selling my MA project. I am thinking about commercializing certain pieces, but I don’t have the resources to bring them in production yet, and I think the collection still needs a bit of work before I start selling.
Were can we find more information on you?
You can look at my work on my website:
And I will be featured in the January Issue of Wallpaper.