In conversation: Colin McDowell and Walter Van Beirendonck

Antwerp Six icon shares his golden rules for students


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A member of the influential Antwerp Six, and now head of fashion at his alma mater the Royal Academy Antwerp, leading fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck sits down with fashion commentator Colin McDowell to discuss interns, education and the euphoric feeling of teaching. 

Patience is a virtue

“I think you have to believe in the job you are doing, believe in yourself, work very hard and have a lot of patience,” explains fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck as he chats to Colin McDowell on the importance of education and young design talent. The designer, who was influential in placing Belgium on the fashion map, has been interested in fashion’s younger generation right from the start. He himself was only a recent graduate when he returned to the Royal Academy of Antwerp to teach back in 1985.

“It takes time to make a name. Don’t be impatient. It can take almost 10 years before you can take your first steps as an individual designer.”

For fashion students looking for a holistic view of a company, Van Beirendonck advises not to get caught up in the glamour of a large fashion house, but rather take up an internship at a smaller company.

“You will learn more in a smaller fashion house; you are involved in more of the action that is happening. In a bigger place you are pushed in a certain direction so it doesn’t give you a holistic view of the company.”

Having become a teacher in 1985, Van Beirendonck has also mentored many of today’s great talents, such as Raf Simons. He believes that nurturing young talent is far more important than forcing them to become something they are not.

“I give input to students, but this must be done carefully. They have to have the feeing it’s happening very naturally, it cannot be forced. When I feel there is a moment when a student goes the extra step, when there’s a breakthrough, it’s really nice to feel that you have been part of this process. It’s euphoric.”  

[Top photo] Kristy Sparow, Getty Images

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