When discussing fashion cities, your mind probably goes directly to the Big Four: New York, Paris, Milan, and London. However, there is a small Belgian town we are sleeping on, and that is Antwerp. You might have seen Belgian designers leading headlines such as Glenn Martens taking over Diesel, or Haider Ackermann crafting a couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier. Well, the masterminds behind those brands are graduates from the legendary Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
Despite its exquisite renaissance architecture and rich art scenery, fashion seems to be the modern aspect shaping Antwerp’s cultural scene. It didn’t start that long ago when in 1986 a group of young Belgian designers, now known as the iconic Antwerp Six — Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Marina Yee — jumped into the fashion industry after presenting their graduate collections in London.
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp has been among the best in the world for more than half a century. The Fashion Department excels at shaping the most innovative designers in today’s fashion scene. The alumni have internationally known names like Martin Margiela, Demna Gvasalia, Christian Wijnants, and the Antwerp Six members.
Today, Antwerp is recognized for its leading and emerging Belgian designers. The city’s subcultural importance is the backbone of bringing new concepts into the industry. From iconic names like Ann Demeulemeester to burgeoning talents like Rushemy Botter, the lineage of designers keeps growing with their promising ideas taking over the fashion world.
Below, we’ve listed some Antwerp graduates that you should have on your radar. Even though some are not Belgian-born designers, it would be impossible to ignore their rising fame and input in the Belgian fashion scene. Be sure to read up on the best Japanese designers, best Italian designers, and best Scandinavian designers.
Keep scrolling to find out the Belgian designers that you should know about.
Dries Van Noten
Known as one of the founding members of the Antwerp Six, Dries Van Noten keeps thriving in the fashion scene with his fan-favorite textiles, colorful prints, and unique style. Born into a family of tailors, the Belgian designer inherited a passion for clothing and translated it into fashion design.
Today, the 64-year-old leads his label with the same eclectic approach as three decades ago. The shocking union of Stüssy x Dries Van Noten has surely put the brand on the contemporary shortlist, and for FW23, Dries continues to mix his traditional tailoring with modern streetwear codes and delivers an exciting collection to drool over.
Known as the father of anti-fashion, Martin Margiela has become a legend in fashion history. The Belgian designer opened his label in 1988 when the Antwerp avant-garde scene was on the rise. Not only were his designs unconventional, but his shows were not what you’d typically see on the catwalk.
He fostered a bizarre aesthetic for his brand by creating rare creations such as his incognito sunglasses, wig jackets, or the iconic Tabi Boots.
In 2023, John Galliano brings his historical references and bizarre ideas to Margiela’s conceptual vision. While still serving on the runway with extravagant creations, collaborations with brands like Reebok and Salomon set the label as one of the most in-demand by all fashion enthusiasts.
Glenn Martens has been rocking our world since his entrance as Diesel's Creative Director in 2021, positioning the brand as one of the hottest labels in today's fashion scene. Deconstruction and fabric manipulation are the Belgian designer's superpowers to conquer any runway.
He debuted as Diesel's designer during Milan Fashion Week last year, and the response is still going strong. The 39-year-old showed us his contemporary take with viral pieces such as the micro leather skirt, or his distressed denim pieces. His groundbreaking work at Y/project further proves that Martens is a fashion visionary to watch.
Jan Jan Van Essche
Kicking it off with a born-and-raised Antwerpenaren, Jan Jan Van Essche brings his love for tradition to our closet. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp in 2003, the 42-year-old launched his first collection in 2010 following a boho aesthetic, which still shapes the brand today.
Despite the baggy silhouettes cut from of lightweight materials, the designer still captures elegance and refinement in each piece. If you are looking for staple unique pieces to wear all year long, then Jan Jan Van Essche is the place to go.
Remember that iconic backless halter top Timothée Chalamet wore to the Venice Film Festival last year? Well, Haider Ackermann is the maestro behind it.
The Colombian-born French designer has been on our radar after showing us his couture skills at Jean Paul Gaultier during the SS23 couture week in Paris. Ackermann's impeccable craftsmanship is excelled by mixing elegance with streetwear. While altering the rules of refined tailoring, Ackermann focuses on details and experimenting with loose silhouettes.
Ann Demeulemeester has cemented her dark romantic aesthetic since the late ‘80s, and her legacy lives on. To this day, Demeulmeester’s avant-garde designs are instantly recognizable as soon as they hit the runway, with her punk-style silhouettes and rebellious takes.
With the rise of punk in fashion back in the early ‘80s, thanks to designers like Vivienne Westwood, the Antwerp-based designer established a more grungy attitude to her vision. Graduating in 1981 alongside the Antwerp Six, Demeulemeester has become an icon in the industry as well as a pioneer of the avant-garde movement within the Belgian fashion scene.
Not only are her signature military boots an all-time favorite, but other pieces, such as oversized black coats and asymmetrical garments, encapsulate the brand's style.
Since her break out in 2014, Hyein Seo’s designs have been impossible to ignore. While still studying at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the South Korean designer was already running her own label, and successfully so, as Rihanna rocked a piece of her graduate collection named “BAD EDUCATION.”
Her contemporary grunge aesthetic is prevalent in her garments, with technical tailoring and deconstructed detailing coexisting. Besides her relaxed hoodies and experimental jackets, one fan-favorite is her Hiero necklace. Hyein Seo is one designer feeding the desires of any streetwear enthusiast, so keep an eye out for her latest drops.
Ludovic de Saint Sernin
As fashion evolves around society, most fashion houses embrace gender fluidity, and Ludovic de Saint Sernin is one designer to do so with aplomb. Since 2018, the Belgian-born designer has been making a name for himself with sexy tailoring.
Ludovic de Saint Sernin based his brand around luxury men's underwear before he became a worldwide sensation. High-quality unisex mesh tops, unique logos, and lace-up undergarments are just some of the popular pieces leading the fantasy world of Saint Sernin.
Because of his dark yet romantic tailoring, this past November, Ann Demeulemeester chose the 31-year-old Belgian visionary to lead her eponymous label.
Marina Yee — the most elusive member of the Antwerp Six — was also a leading designer in the avant-garde movement in the Belgian fashion scene back in the ‘80s. Despite her desire to remain lowkey, the Belgian designer has kept her distinctive deconstructed tailoring intact for over four decades.
Sustainability and upcycling have always been the backdrop for this brand. Marina Yee might not be among the big players of today’s scene, but she is surely a leading designer to keep in mind. She masters the rules of draping, detailing, and textile experimentation like no other.
We may or may not have cried actual tears when Raf Simons announced that he would shut down his namesake label last year. Minimalism with an avant-garde twist defined the eponymous menswear brand, as we’ve witnessed — in some form or another — in every collection of his.
Along his journey, he’s been at the helm of different fashion houses such as Jil Sander, Christian Dior, and Calvin Klein. Today, he co-directs Prada along with Muccia Prada. References like underground music and youth subcultures inform Simons’ unique aesthetic.
With years of sportswear design experience in big brands such as Under Armour and adidas, Tim Coppens brings his technical skills to the luxury field in his New York-based brand Tim Coppens Studio.
The Belgian designer also attended the Royal Academy in Antwerp, and since then, his international recognition has only grown further. Experimenting with technical silhouettes is Coppens' expertise, and this is seen in his functional outerwear.
Walter Van Beirendonck
Among Antwerp's Six legendary fashion designers, one that stands out is Walter Van Beirendonck. We love the dark romance by Ann Demeulmeester or Dirk Bikkemberg's sporty-chic style, but Van Beirendonck brings us a more fun visual approach.
Saturated colorways, playful prints, and adventurous motifs like his cartoonish printed characters are permanent residents in the dreamy world of Walter Van Beirendonck. Breaking the preconceptions of what serious menswear should look like, the Antwerp alum brings witty art pieces to the runway and to your closet.
Rich colorways, elegant graphics, and exquisite tailoring encapsulate Christian Wijnants’ approach. The Belgian designer graduated from the prestigious school in Antwerp back in the 2000s and obtained the Dries Van Noten award for the best collection in the same year.
While maintaining a minimal aesthetic, the Antwerp-based label offers dynamic silhouettes for everyday use. The designer's eponymous label offers monochrome looks ideal for those who want to convey elegance and pop some color on a daily basis.
Condom gloves, 3D-printed Sneakers, and fuzzy chairs are some of Botter’s creations making heads turn to the Paris-based label. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts graduate, Rushemy Botter co-directs the brand with Amsterdam-based designer Lisi Herrebrugh.
Both designers are bringing a new concept to today's fashion scene while following the ethics of sustainability, their cultural heritage, and their modern-yet-refined aesthetic.
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