Starting in 1963, under the directorship of Mary Prijot, the Fashion and Theatre Costume Design department educated young designers in couture skills along the rigorous lines of Parisian style, as embodied by the house of Chanel. Prijot insisted that her students understood their craft from A to Z; they had to be able to draw, to communicate their ideas visually, to understand the manufacture of garments, and present and promote their work in an arresting manner. The four-year course was extremely demanding – of the 30 students who started in the first year, only six or so might make it through to graduation.
A handful of designers graduated around 1980 that married the rebel spirit of the times to the technical rigours of their Academy training. Previous generations of Academy students had gone on to work for international houses such as Cardin and Versace, but Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela were the first generation of Academy students to make it on the international scene designing under their own names.
Linda Loppa, who became head of the department in 1983, worked hard to promote the Academy and its alumni, attracting important critics and designers to the increasingly professional summer graduation shows. Successive generations of Academy graduates made a name for themselves on the international scene, including Veronique Branquinho, A.F. Vandevorst, Stephan Schneider, Bernhard Willhelm, Christian Wijnants, Bruno Pieters, Tim Van Steenbergen, Peter Pilotto, Haider Ackermann and Kris Van Assche.
In 2006 Walter Van Beirendonck took over as director of the Academy, which continues to attract students from all over the world and to foster a strong sense of community among those who pass through its doors.