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11.30.2016

Walter van Beirendonck

Belgian designer Walter van Beirendonck was sporting a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word WOEST in bold capitals; one of the models in his show wore a transparent PVC sweatshirt with a patch bearing the same slogan (WvB’s own, incidentally, wasn’t see-through). If it made you think of woe, of melancholy, of sadness, you thought wrong. "It’s a Flemish word, my language", said the designer. "It means 'furious'. Because I am really angry". You don't expect that from Walter van Beirendonck, either the man himself, whose apple cheeks and generous graying beard give him a Santa Claus look, nor his fashion. The offering this season was colorful, playful, eccentric, and exciting as usual. There was a globe-trotting aspect to gilt chains strung across the face; layered, woven silks; generous trousers with brief skirts worn djellaba-style; sweeping blanket coats in squiggle graphics and multiple colors; designs that resembled totem poles or monstrous faces -cartoonish monsters, rather than the really scary kind. However,Walter van Beirendonck wanted these to express rage above anything else. "I’m a pacifist", he stated. "But really, I want to punch someone in the face". The agitator ? How screwed up the world is right now, and how the politics of world leaders are to blame. He threw in a few expletives for good measure, to hammer home his anti-establishment point. His previous work has been fixated on world events; in the Nineties, his collections tub-thumped a serious message of safe sex, despite their zinging colors and overall sense of spontaneity. Those offerings had a healthy dose of on-message latex -one even garroted the models' faces with it, and they tumbled from the catwalk. No one fell this season; nevertheless, there were hints that WvB was in a rather pessimistic mood. All the fur (it was teddy bear–ish, but also kind of beastly) and leopard print that punctuated the lineup was an expression of animalistic aggression, and the closing outfit was a dour black coat with an anthropomorphic figure clambering across it. Walter van Beirendonck compared humanity, like that figure, to puppets in a vast political game, and commented that he'd never previously closed a collection with a black outfit. Dark times, dark clothes. Dark in meaning, if not necessarily hue. It's easy to scoff off meaning like this when it's embedded in fashion. However, these shows are taking place under a fresh rash of laws dubbed "Vigipirate" (anti-terrorism) in France. After one's body and bags had been scanned by metal detectors and passport checked upon entrance to fashion shows, it wasn't the superficial impact of Walter van Beirendonck's cheery surfaces that stuck in your mind, but the message that lurked beneath the façade of apparent optimism.

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