For more than thirty years, Belgian fashion has held an outstanding reputation worldwide. Pupils of Belgium’s fashion schools quickly rise to positions at the big fashion houses or successfully launch their own labels. Director of La Cambre Mode Tony Delcampe unravels some of the secrets of this success in the fashion world.
How is it that Belgian fashion enjoys such a strong reputation?
‘Belgian fashion has been held in high regard since the early nineties thanks to the Antwerp Six and since then a new generation has proven itself. The whole world envies our success and tries to figure out why our fashion was and remains so good. It is perhaps because Belgian fashion is so discreet, but at the same time very precise and effective.’
Is this also the reason why our two fashion schools – La Cambre and the Antwerp Academy – are among the five best schools in the world?
‘Reputation certainly plays a role in it. But the structure of our education system is another contributing factor. Firstly, schools are subsidised by the government, which makes it possible to select the most motivated and most talented students. And secondly, courses last either four (Antwerp) or five (La Cambre) years, allowing students the time to mature artistically.’
What makes the course at La Cambre so strong? Is it anything to do with the ideas of Henry Van de Velde still having an influence?
‘The fact that our ateliers are part of a school where literally every creative discipline is represented is certainly to our advantage. And in a sense we do indeed continue in the spirit of Henry Van de Velde. Fashion is therefore seen, just like the other disciplines, as a medium for expression, and at the heart of the act of creation lies a reflection of contemporary society. Our teachers are also fashion professionals in their own right. They work with big fashion houses such as Balenciaga, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Ann Demeulemeester, and so they have their feet firmly planted in the contemporary fashion world.’
Can you describe what is involved in the course at La Cambre?
‘Artistic expression and the thorough study of the technical side of clothing are two vitally important aspects of the course. We study clothing in the broadest sense of the word, because innovation and creativity flow from a sound knowledge of craft and tradition. What’s more, fashion not only comes from our students’ imaginations, it also flows from their hands. Which is why we always design in 3D and not in two dimensions like many other schools. Our comprehensive, five-year course gives students great autonomy and a wide range of skills. This prepares them for presenting a personal collection in their final year and is greatly valued at the big fashion houses.’
Is the result of this approach reflected in the school’s alumni?
‘Absolutely: the majority of our alumni have taken up key positions at large fashion houses since graduating. Olivier Theyskens, for example, now works for Theory; Matthieu Blazy, Emilie Duval and Oriane Leclercq for Maison Martin Margiela; Julien Dossenna for Paco Rabanne; Nicolas Di Felice and Laurent Edmond for Balenciaga; Sarah de Grunne and Séraphine d’Oultremont for Kenzo and Laetitia Crahay for Chanel accessories. Others, such as Anthony Vaccarello, Cédric Charlier, Léa Peckre and Krjst have since successfully launched their own brands.’
What are La Cambre’s ambitions?
‘We will persist and try to always maintain our excellent standards. One of the greatest challenges each year is the organisation of the end-of-year fashion show. This show represents the culmination of the huge amount of work done by the students over the past year and serves as a calling card for the school. But our jury of respected personalities from the fashion world, the technical production of the show and the creation of an accompanying catalogue together require a significant injection of funds that neither the school nor the Ministry can provide. Consequently, every year we must go in search of funding and partners who would like to invest in the creative potential of our students. And that is always a real struggle.