It is not a secret that Belgium is one of the richest, most fertile, and productive lands for fashion. The number of creators that they have gifted the world is unimaginable when you really think about it, with not only a high quantity of names, but each one of these being of the highest quality as well. As a way of encouraging this constant flow of talent so it never ceases, the Belgian Fashion Awards have taken place every year since 2017, and in its 2023 edition, we had the chance of not only attending but also being part of the jury, experiencing firsthand how professional, important, and key for the development of the creative industry of the country fashion can be.
When it comes to fashion, Belgians don’t take it lightly; they don’t need all the buzz that the major fashion capitals get to prove their undeniable influence, with a good amount of the icons, trends, and movements that have defined the industry’s panorama ever since the last century coming directly from their classes, ateliers, and streets. Once again, Antwerp exhibits its well-deserved title of fashion focal point for the Belgian Fashion Awards, where the celebration didn’t last only a few minutes; the whole day was dedicated to giving a space for Belgian creators to express themselves and show what they are made of to the impressive amount of attendees that packed the grand Handelsbeurs Antwerpen, or Bourse at Antwerp, one of the most important historical buildings in the city as it was the world’s first commodities exchange venue.
The day started early in the morning with an insightful tour that was organised almost in a chronological way, portraying the different instances of the life of a creator. Starting with the respected and loved Jan Jan Van Essche and a visit to his store and former atelier that breathes the calm and poise only experience and being content with one’s work can get you followed by a refreshing sneak peak of emerging brands LĒO and Bernadette workshops that, in their own unique way, feel almost like their homes. The challenges independent designers face in a money-oriented industry are not a secret, but the enthusiasm and passion with which young creative directors face the challenges is inspiring to see. This passion could also be witnessed in the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which opened its doors for us on a tour with Brandon Wen, its director.
The venue for the awards welcomed us early in the evening for an act almost as important: the Fashion Talks, an event organised every two years where a space of conversation is open to discuss topics that dive deep into fashion roots, such as sustainability, inclusivity, the use of new technologies, and creative freedom. Organised in a live interview kind of way, conducted by professionals and journalists, the audience could discover how the minds of creators such as Sinéad O’Dwyer, Meryll Rogge, Stéphanie D'Heygere, Calum Knight, and Tom Eerebout work in a deeper and more introspective way, discussing everything from their beginnings in the fashion world to the challenges they face in an industry that seems quite outdated for the open minds of the new generations.
The cherry on top and the most anticipated moment of the day came with the start of the ceremony for the 2023 Belgian Fashion Awards. The winners for six of the categories, plus a special jury price, were chosen by the eleven members of the professional jury, which we participated in, alongside names such as Head of Emerging Brands Initiative at Fédération de la Haute Couture, Serge Carreirea, designer Meryll Rogge, iconic makeup artist Inge Grognard, and different members of the press, the fashion and the art industry, while the Brand of the Year award, given to Orta, was chosen by the audience. The high honour of designer of the year was conceded to Anthony Vacarello for the undeniable impact of his vision at Saint Laurent and the level of quality he has maintained in his work over the years, while the jury prize went to Jan Jan Van Essche as a way of highlighting the savoir-faire he’s so loved for, as well as the uniqueness and sensibility his universe is filled with.
Familiar names like Igor Igor Dieryck and Frederik Heyman resonated in the venue, the first one in the Emerging Talent of the Year category, following up his recent win at the Hyères festival, making him one of the most important young creatives to keep an eye on, and the latter recognised as Professional of the Year, and rightly so, being the name behind Beyoncé’s other-worldly visuals in the Renaissance tour. Changemake of the Year was given to Laetitia Bica, the most promising graduate to Leslie Novignon, and the newest and necessary category, Accessory Designer of the Year, to Sarah Levy, for her work not only in her brand but on houses such as Marine Serre, Patou, Givenchy, and Hermès. There’s no doubt Belgians know how to do it right.