This week a new exhibition opens at the BOZAR centre for fine arts in Brussels, exploring the rise of Belgian fashion designers and their huge influence on the international fashion scene. Presumably the ‘unexpected’ in the exhibition title comes from the fact that at least in other regards, Belgium remains something of an enigma in Europe; Brussels bringing to mind bureaucratic officialdom rather than world class design, and, in the main, Belgian culture being less readily identifiable than that of some of its European neighbours. But as last year’s Dries Van Noten exhibition and the recent Dior film profiling Raf Simons indicates, there is much more to this little country than meets the eye.
Unquestionably the impact of the “Antwerp 6” generation of designers continues to this day, and perhaps by taking a closer look at the work of around 100 designers in this exhibition with its stated aim of “taking a closer look at the DNA of Belgian fashion” we can all become a bit clearer on why mild mannered country has made such an indelible mark on the map of international fashion. If you still need convincing, perhaps the list of featured designers will do the trick: Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Olivier Theyskens, Veronique Branquinho, Dirk Van Saene, Diane von Fürstenberg, Marina Yee, Anthony Vaccarello, AF Vandevorst, Haider Ackermann, Bruno Pieters, Kris Van Assche and Elvis Pompilio; an impressive list from any country.
Previous visitors to MOMU in Antwerp (currently showing the Dries Van Noten exhibition I reviewed in Paris for The Guardian last year) will attest to the fact that the Belgians already do a great job of bigging up their famous fashion offspring and while Brussels may be overlooked in favour of the modish associations of its rival city, there is plenty to admire in the handsome boulevards, multicultural neighbourhoods and Belle Époque buildings of the Belgian capital this summer. In fact, BOZAR has joined forces with MAD Brussels to organise the Summer of Fashion festival with events including a fashion walk that has been specially mapped out from trendy Rue Dansaert to the Brussels fashion school La Cambre, a reading by Diane von Furstenberg, photos of Vivienne Westwood by Juergen Teller, a cinema weekend on the theme of fashion documentaries and the installation Bellissima featuring Italian fashion from 1945 to 1968. All of which sounds like more than enough justification to book your Eurostar break now, for a culture-packed weekend balancing fashion events with browsing the fleamarket and soaking up the ambience at some of the city’s grand cafes.