With big eyes scattered all over the various materials and architectural shapes of what appear to be prints from old magazines, the graduate collection by the young Antwerp-born designer Quinten Mestdagh certainly has caught everyone’s attention. And it’s no surprise. He has been captivated by the visual strength of fashion ever since seeing his first runway show as a ten-year-old. We sat down with him to talk about the concept ‘iconic’, working alone versus working with a team, and what the future holds for him.
Hello Quinten, glad to have you here. I can’t quite pinpoint your name. Where are you from?
I am from Antwerp (Belgium), therefore the weird, difficult last name (laughs).
Name three things about you that are completely unrelated to fashion.
That’s a hard one! It feels like all my other interests, whatever they are, are somehow linked to fashion.
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You’re a recent BA graduate from the renowned fashion academy in Antwerp, with a final collection focusing on the “strength and passion of fashion photography”, as you put it yourself. There is no doubt that the word icon or iconic is echoed throughout your collection. I’m curious, what makes something iconic to you?
When I think of something iconic, I think in the first instance of something bold, graphic and visually instantly recognisable. That can be a person, a piece of design or a specific moment in time or history but always something that reflects and embodies the timeframe and culture where it took place in.
Who do you believe are the icons of today? And why?
It’s hard for me to pinpoint an icon of today because, for me, you become only an icon after a while; after you’ve had the time to reflect on it. Something that we perceive as iconic today might look irrelevant in the future.
In your collection, there seems to be a familiarity in your designs with your references to the Pop Art era and faces of fashion, yet, in the shape of something very contemporary, static and elegant. What led you to bring these two elements together?
I wanted to start from the idea of working around extreme beauty that had a direct visual impact. The concept of the relationship between clothing, body and images was something that I really wanted to explore. The idea for the giant portraits came from looking at beauty advertisements on the streets and how that would translate into garments that would be the carrier for those images. The extremely beautiful images of women’s faces in contrast with the brutal and urban atmosphere of a street created an interesting tension/dialogue. Adding the element of paper gave it also a delicate and tactile feeling and added transiency to the image that I wanted to achieve.
A lot of the portraits were found in vintage issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, like the portraits of Nico and Princess Elizabeth of Toro, that I found in the archives of the library of the fashion museum in Antwerp. In contrast with that, I wanted to use more contemporary faces, like the portraits of Karen Elson and Selena Forrest, so that they could interfere with each other and give a clash of the past with today.
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The collection pieces look like a life-size collage work. It’s quite unbelievable, really. How did you create the garments? What are they made of?
All of the garments are made out of digitally printed fabric; later on, they are reinforced with different kinds of vliselines, felt and, sometimes, also paper to give it a stiff but sharp shape. It was quite a process to find the right reinforcement so that the garment could hold its shape as well as it was possible to get it through the sewing machine and to later on, also walk in. I looked at a lot of couture shapes of the 1950s but wanted to make a more abstract version of them.
In terms of construction, I really wanted to keep it close to how you would work with paper, so all of the garments were cut on a square pattern. I didn’t want to work with loads of fabric and underskirts underneath to hold the shapes, as it easily can get too historical. Most of the garments came together by pleating the fabric or tactically placing darts to get that architectural couture shape.
The eyes are a recurring image bridging your designs. Why did you interpret this as classic fashion imagery?
An eye is the captivating part of a portrait that directly speaks to you. It worked as an element of fragility in contrast with the more brutal and destroyed feeling that it got through the paper.
How does the collection resemble you as a designer? How would you describe your vision?
I think that I really found my own methodology and way of working on a fashion collection in my third bachelor year at the academy. I really started to work from a graphic and visual research that I later on connected to shapes and cuts that were in relation with each other. Normally, it makes more sense to start the other way around but for me, the images really inspired the shape of the clothing. I think my vision is still being developed and constantly changing, but for sure it’s a very graphic/visual one!
“It’s hard for me to pinpoint an icon of today because, for me, you become only an icon after a while. Something that we perceive as iconic today might look irrelevant in the future.”
What made you get into fashion?
I think that from a very early age on, I was already attracted to beauty and everything in relation to clothing. Fashion was something that I really grew up with because my mother had her own children’s wear collection. When I was ten years old, she took me and my sister to the graduate show of the Antwerp fashion academy and I remember that I was blown away about the fact that it was an actual thing you could study. I knew from then on that it was something I wanted to do; ten years later, I enrolled in the school.
Your collection was part of the bachelor’s graduate show taking place last year. What are you up to these days?
I am currently busy preparing my master collection for the graduation show of 2019, so all my time goes into that.
Where do you hope to go in the future?
After graduating, I definitely want to get more experience by doing internships. Last summer, I did my first internship at Dries van Noten and because of that experience, I really noticed that I still have a lot to learn. The way we work on a collection at school is miles away from how you design a collection for a brand. The creative process is definitely, in both cases, the starting point for every collection, but when you work for a brand, you also go directly to execution and development and to a realistic commercial garment. There is still place for fantasy and experimentation but it’s much more balanced. In school, it’s fantastic because you are your own boss and you have total creative control over your own work but you also work very isolated. When you work for a designer or a big brand, you really work in a team with different departments and designers that are working together on one collection and under one creative director. It’s by working in a team that you learn a lot and not only by working on your own, so that is what I want to do for sure.
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