In the fashion scene, An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx are ultimate story tellers who turned their whimsical ideas and uncompromising vision into their design. From the first day, when they met each other at Antwerp’s Royal Academy, they immediately shared their obsessions and vision for their fashion visualization. For 16 years, ever since they decided to start their own brand, the husband and wife designer duo has been creating their profound and unique style, finding balance between creativity and business success.
First of all, tell me how everything started. Was fashion always the passion of your lives?
Filip : I was a young boy growing up in a hardworking family. My parents taught me that to enjoy things was the major goal in life. I was looking for a way to express my enthusiasm; I knew that for a lot of people, personal appearance is one of their main concerns. What impressed me a lot was the way in which my two eldest sisters were dressed… They were raised in the seventies thus “HIPPIE”! At that time it was much more interesting to be dressed as lousy as possible rather than look like a “YUPPIE”. It was much cooler to have parents who drove an old miserable car rather than a Mercedes. Their clothes had to be also very comfortable and practical because they had to climb out of the window of their bedrooms to go out while my parents were asleep.
it all started at fifteen with an article in a fashion magazine titled, ‘youth of 15’. They were considered as impersonal snobs. I disagreed completely and wrote immediately a letter to the editors. Soon after, I was invited by a Belgian TV – fashion programme to explain my motivations more in detail and to give my opinion on fashion. They arranged a discussion with Dirk Bikkembergs and from that moment my interest in fashion just kept on growing.
An : I grew up surrounded by contemporary art which nurtured my own artistic impulses. First I experimented on my own appearance, I wanted to express myself and create things. My mother was always a personality also, in the way she was dressed. I was very impressed and proud of her, although the inhabitants of our small home village never understood how she was living and what she was wearing. I think she always had this special sense about what was going on since the things she felt came a few years later in our village, from the shoes she wore to the bicycle she rode.
my mother always taught us that no matter what other people think about you, just be your own person. She was always very supportive in the choices I made. For which I’m still very grateful to her. At the age of 17, I saw a story on TV about the “ Six of Antwerp “, followed by the annual fashion show of the student of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts. As my way of dressing was very important for me to express myself, I realised after this emission that this was my dream.
An & Filip : We met the first day at the Fashion School at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. There was an immediate attraction for each other. We started a conversation, which never ended. After 4 years we left school, still together hand in hand. After school we both had different jobs and afters 7 years we decided it was time to share our ideas of fashion with the world and started our first collection winter 1998 -1999.
Have you always seen yourselves as fashion designers? What do you both think you would be if you were not a fashion designer?
Filip : My interest in clothes started when I was 10 years old. But at the age of 7, I wanted to become a ballet dancer. My parents didn’t support this choice at all. So I thought I’d explore my second interest in a more hidden way. I hid the fashion magazines I bought and when I went out, I changed clothes at the railway station. At 15 I wrote that letter I described in my answer to the first question. And I was very convinced that no one would stop me from expressing myself through clothes and taking the fast lane to the Royal Academy of Antwerp.
An: First I wanted to be a contemporary dancer, as I really loved the work of Pina Bausch, but because I had serious back problems, I had to forget this dream. Next was a film director or a writer: I adore listening, reading and telling stories; these are all professions in which I could express myself. Fashion design is another medium to express myself and share my ideas, so I am very happy to be a designer.
Can you describe the ultimate woman figure in your stories? What would be her fashion, lifestyle and psychology?
Our ultimate woman is:
– a heroine
– someone who makes a difference
– a passionate woman
– a nomad
– someone who has a past, a history
– someone who is strong and tender
– someone who is focused and wise
In the interview with Business of Fashion, you mentioned that the most difficult part in designing is to say, “stop,” and to concentrate on just one idea. How do you keep yourself so focused on one idea by staying away from so many creative ideas out there?
The advantage of working as a couple is to be able to easily evaluate each other’s input in the collection and stimulate each other to bring the collection to a higher level and finally reach the best result.
How do you balance your ideas between yourselves? Do you have different roles for visualizing your ideas to the designs?
We have known each other for 25 years; as a result we only need one word to understand each other.
An starts to set up the story and the mood board for the next season. While An and her team are designing the collection, Filip starts to think and develop his vision on the new collection. Filip also makes a mood board with ideas that might counter or elaborate the designs of the collection.
We talk, talk, talk, day in, day out. Sometimes we can hardly keep up the pace and we wish we had a tape recorder in our mind. We are constantly sharing and exchanging ideas with each other. This way of working keeps us constantly being an added value one to the other.
In a business sense, it is very difficult to call fashion as art. However, the process of creating a collection is similar to finding inspiration, researching ideas and visualizing your emotion to the final product. Doesn’t the process sometimes push you both to be an artist? Do you consider yourselves artists? Do you have any opinions on the relationship between art and fashion?
for us it is important that we can create our own universe. Clothes are a part of that but also the process of getting there is as important and the way we present it. If tomorrow somebody would say: you can only present your clothes on a rack at a fashion fare, take it or leave it, we wouldn’t do it. We like telling stories too much. In a way you could say we are artists, only the result of our work is a product, not a piece of art.
Does your obsession and collection of “hospital stuff” come from your love toward the aesthetic aspect, the emotional aspect or toward story telling? Tell us more about it and how many pieces do you own?
When we met each other, we soon found out that we shared the obsession for hospital design. Collecting hospital stuff is something Filip has done since he was twelve. When the Red Cross department of his hometown changed furniture he went with his father to collect the old furniture and stock it in the garage at home. Since then he started to add all kinds of – in his aesthetics – hospital design. This goes from beds, to night tables, to uniforms of nurses and surgeons.
On top of this, An had an enormous respect towards the work of Joseph Beuys who used the red cross symbol in a lot of his works. She even presented her graduating collection at the fashion academy on hospital beds. Also the myth around his life and his way of thinking had a lot of connections to the heart-warming side of hospitals and helping volunteers or professionals. These two angles were for us were the bases for our aesthetics and of course also our storytelling. Until today we keep on collecting every little piece of hospital that might complete our collection from the touching design or story behind, from furniture to uniforms.
Joseph Beuys was always an influence to your collections. Can you point out your collection’s key pieces to Beuys’ works or his life? Who are the other influencers to your career?
It is too difficult to pick as there are so many : the use of felt, leather, the colours, the red cross, his uniform, his hat, rabbit fur, the nomads, the shaman, the myth he created around himself, …
Pina Bausch is another important muse in our career. As is music, art and movies.
Would you tell us about fashion in Belgium and about Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts as a big influence to the international fashion scene?
In another interview, you expressed your financial struggles after the 9/11 incident. What are the emotional struggles and challenges you had from being in the fashion industry? What did you learn the most from the experience?
By controlling everything ourselves we learned a lot about the managing side of the fashion business.Although it sometimes was too time-consuming it helped us to make decisions, which we couldn’t have made if we didn’t have that experience.After 15 years we could attract the right business partner. This gives us the opportunity to dedicate most of our time to the creative part of the business.
You both have great mentors for your careers and received great advice on business. What kind of advice do you want to give to up-and-coming designers who are still looking for mentors or who are too focused on the creative side of fashion and neglecting the business side?
We would recommend finding the right partners if the business part is not your cup of tea. In the beginning we did everything ourselves, but we are very happy that we found the right people to reinforce our team for that part of the job.( see also previous question ) In this way we can focus more on the creative part.
Do you have any exciting memories of when you were students at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts? Do you want to change anything if you were to be students again?
Hair Hiro + Mari for Salon 87
using Bumble and bumble,
Makeup Aki Maekubo,
MODEL Dasha gold @next Management,
Creative direction & Production
Artistic Cube inc.
Casting Jorge Morales