Written by Luka Gesquière. Reviewed by Marthe Bonnez
In the 1970s, the Belgian fashion sector experienced rapid transition. Parisian haute couture had previously served as a model for Belgian fashion, but from the 1950s onward, Parisian haute couture became a steady decline. The consumers of fashion in the 1970s, both male and female, were younger than those in the previous decades. These consumers were attracted by alternatives, such as home-made clothes and second-hand clothes. The wrap dress, platform shoe, denim were all typical garments for this era. Cultural movements in this period encouraged this process, but also contributed to the rise of street styles in fashion, like punk fashion. The 1970s can be characterized as a period of creative transition, based on the energy of a generation of young creators, like Nina Meert, Olivier Strelli and An Salens, who, unlike their elders, did not choose to devote their work to the reproduction of Parisian fashion. The work of these new creators, such as Yvette Lauwaert, had a strong link with the art scene.
A real turning point in the fashion world was the Battle of Versailles in 1973, a charity event to raise money for the restoration of the historical palace. The main “amusement” of this event was a display of fashion by French couturiers and American designers. Although the event led to a battle of position, the importance of this event was that it emphasized the gap between commercialism and art, ready-to-wear and exclusive made-to-order, trends that also appear in Belgium. In the Belgian fashion world there is a coexistence of tailor-made couture companies, department stores, boutiques, second-hand shops, and, outside this system, home couture.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Antwerp developed an exciting, internationally orientated art scene. The Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts had an upcoming important role in the fashion world. Under the leadership of Mary Prijot (1917-1998), artist and founder of the fashion design and theater costume department of the Academy, the school developed into a fully-fledged training program in fashion drawing.
The 1970s in Belgium were a pivotal period between on the one hand the decline of the hegemony of the French haute couture, and on the other hand the emerging individuality of fashion designers. It was a wild decade full of diversity and trends where “wearable clothes” and vintage clothes were the obsession. Women wore trousers and men’s fashion became brighter and bolder. The 1970s can be seen as a decade of creative experimentation, and the prelude to the best-known designers in Belgian fashion, the Antwerp Six.
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