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Alexandra Verschueren: Antwerp's Rising Star

Monday, Feb 7, 2011, 11:42 AM / Antwerp, Belgium

It wouldn't be an understatement to say Alexandra Verschueren started the decade with a bang. The 22-year-old Antwerp native catapulted to fame when she won the Grand Prix du jury at the 25th Festival d'Hyères last year, with a focused show sparking interest in her style, from international press as well as industry insiders. Entitled Medium, her collection was inspired by paper and origami techniques, working on pleats and architectural effects to achieve striking looks. Sitting in her central, top-floor apartment,which she also uses as a studio space, Verschueren is warm and chatty, with a contagious laugh. She comes across as a true perfectionist, passionate about her craft and willing to challenge herself: “It's all about the details for me and how to make them work. I guess my silhouettes are fairly clean and simple. I like graphic shapes, but get obsessed with certain things. When I was developing the collection for Hyères, I didn't mind spending hours ironing some pieces, just to have the results I wanted.”

Needless to say, Verschueren is far too humble to boast, despite her obvious skills. What the girl can do with a plain iron is quite extraordinary. There's something deeply intriguing and beautiful about her use of volume as decoration, playing on the tension between unruly textures and flat surfaces. She does not seem interested in plundering the past either, even though the directness and upbeat energy of some her clothes evoke the optimism of the 1960s. Still, do not expect her to come up with a romantic story behind each piece: “I am not going to make some fairy tale up, telling you that my clothes are about this love affair between some guy and a beautiful girl. Certain designers do that well, but it's just not me. I like having a concept as a starting point and don't mind it being a bit abstract.” Pleats are one of Verschueren's trademarks and she manages to make them look modern and fresh. Her dark blue denim jacket -which she has kept in her studio as inspiration for future work- is an illustration of her skills, mixing Western aesthetics with Japanese traditions. Taking a utilitarian fabric and generic shape, she adds surface interest to a wardrobe essential. This ability to turn the seemingly ordinary into a visual treat is part of her charm.

Her inspiration comes from interiors, design and everyday objects, which she often uses as a starting point: “At the moment, I'm really into these small water bottles and their sculpted curves. I'm trying to see how I could reproduce these patterns into fabrics. I want to get closer to the body with my next collection and incorporate it more within my designs.” Currently preparing for her return show in Hyères, where she will present 15 new silhouettes, Verschueren followed her gut instincts and decided to launch her own label, which she plans on unveiling next October. Recently picked by Vogue Paris online as one of fashion's most relevant talents –along the likes of Tom Ford, Phoebe Philo and Alber Elbaz - she seems almost embarrassed by the level of attention she's been getting: “I couldn't believe it when I saw it. I feel I don't deserve this in a way, because these people have achieved so much more than I have. I know it's an honour, but it's also a good kick in the pants, because you really have to prove yourself. That aspect of things can be a bit daunting sometimes, but it acts as a form of reassurance, too, especially when you have doubts about your work.“

Despite taking the plunge and starting her own brand, she's excited at the prospect of making it all happen: “After graduating from the Antwerp Academy, I went to New York where I interned at Proenza Schouler, which was a good experience. I was then offered a job at Derek Lam and thought I would stay there. I even had a place in New York, but there was a hiccup with my visa application and I had to return to Belgium. Although it could be sorted out and the job was still mine, I realised I didn't want it. I applied for Hyères a couple of days before closing date and got in.”

Verschueren has since been busy talking to factories, producers and suppliers. She clearly enjoys putting everything together, planning all the different steps and carefully thinking each one through. Instead of following other people's advice telling her to pursue her studies or enter a big house, she's sticking to her guns and growing her strengths. Completely self-financed, she values independence above all: “The idea of an investor sounds nice in theory, but I would hate it if someone told me what to do. I'd rather be free than have to go through that.”

Philippe Pourhashemi | TribaSpace

Product Groups: Creation, Ready-to-Wear, Textiles
Markets: Women's

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