ONE WILD & LETHAL BELGIAN
Byline: Heidi Lender
PARIS — The Belgian revolution isn’t quite over yet.
Walter Van Beirendonck is no deconstructionist, but the 37-year-old designer is suddenly making some funky waves of his own. His wacky, colorful new line — Wild & Lethal Trash — is the latest Antwerp export, and it’s right in step with the European youthquake that’s exploding from Paris to Munich.
“I was always the weird one, doing weird things,” says Van Beirendonck, one of the original Antwerp Six group of designers, who has been turning out technicolor garb since 1982 with a signature label of bold knitwear.
But that pricey knitwear line has had a limited international following. It’s the young Wild & Lethal Trash (W.&L.T.) collection that is really getting Van Beirendonck noticed.
“W.&L.T. is not cheap chic, but it’s not designer prices. It’s not banal and boring. It’s a streetwear collection with a designer face, and it’s new input in fashion. Important designers are influenced by this phenomenon,” says Van Beirendonck.
“It’s usually the other way around — the secondary line comes last,” he adds.
W.&L.T. is a license of the Italian branch of Mustang, the big German jeans manufacturer that also makes Joop jeans. The alliance started 18 months ago, and Van Beirendonck admits price was a prime mover in the creation of W.&L.T. His loud, flashy knitwear is an expensive investment and, he says, it was at the “wrong prices.”
He describes W.&L.T. as a brew of street and club, targeting a wild young crowd from teens to 20-year-olds. “Call them MTV people. When you see the evolution of cyber and video games, the young people coming out of this are looking for something new,” says Van Beirendonck.
“People who like Stussy and dark colors don’t wear this. It’s for people who are not into fashion but really into dressing up. They want pieces that attract attention.”
Although the rage is buzzing throughout Europe, W.&L.T. hasn’t caught the American eye. And Van Beirendonck’s more expensive knitwear collection, which once sold at stores including Charivari and Barneys, doesn’t any more; the colorful pieces were just too costly. “People will invest in anything black,” says the designer. But not in bright colors, he adds, explaining why W.&L.T. works only at low prices. The collection wholesales from $25 (135 francs) for a T-shirt to $55 (300 francs) for cotton overalls and $74 (400 francs) for a neoprene jacket. The spring collection — 60 percent unisex, 20 percent women’s wear, 20 percent men’s — is a kooky mix of cotton slogan T-shirts, clear plastic dresses, neoprene jackets, cycling tops, bright reflective tunics and more neon than a Las Vegas bar. His mascot, Puk-Puk — a cartoon figure from planet Dork — is flying over just about everything. “There’s an over-interest in magazines for this look right now, and 90 percent of the readers don’t wear this kind of thing. But,” Van Beirendonck smiles, “they’re waking up to what’s going on in fashion.
“Neon, color and graphics are my favorite things,” adds the designer, whose quirky sensibility is evident in his own Dork-ish style: overalls, sizzling green tee, double hoop earrings and silver rings on every finger. What’s next? For his winter ’95 line (which he will show at SEHM here in January), the techno-designer surprisingly promises an homage to nature. “Not in slogans, like Save the Whales, but with lots of birds and fish with beautiful colors. We’ll see a lot of animals, but people can be animals, too.”
And Van Beirendonck disputes the notion that using technological fabrics is ecologically incorrect. “People think using colors and plastic is against nature — that you can’t do this without destroying nature. But I’m going to show the beauty of nature,” he says.