In the 1960s and 70s, Antwerp was home to a burgeoning avant-garde, one that was increasingly well connected to arts movements in Europe and beyond. Galleries such as the legendary Wide White Space (1966-76) supported emerging homegrown talents including Marcel Broodthaers and Panamarenko, and nurtured important relationships with key European figures like Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Dieter Roth and Carl André and staged exhibitions by American luminaries Andy Warhol and Richard Artschwager.
The students of the fashion department were not immune to the revolution going on in the industry elsewhere, first at the hands of avant-garde designers like André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, and Thierry Mugler and later in the street fashions of punk and the New Romantics. While Mary Prijot and her colleagues at the Fashion Department still promoted ideas of balance and harmony in fashion, 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.
The emergence of Martin Margiela and the generation of designers now known as the Antwerp Six did not happen in isolation; a whole corpus of visionary fashion professionals emerged at around the same time. The work of photographer Ronald Stoops and pioneering make-up artist Inge Grognard has become synonymous with the visual identity of Antwerp fashion. Geert Bruloot’s store Louis was the first to sell and support the work of the young designers, and he was later instrumental in the creation of MoMu and the Flanders Fashion Institute. Art director Bob Verhelst contributed to the ground-breaking look of the Maison Martin Margiela shows, and created the scenography for many of the exhibitions at MoMu.