Interview by Liam Hess

I know many people have been taking the lockdown period as an opportunity to reflect and reset – is that what led you to think so deeply again about your early days as a designer?

The lockdown period gave me this weird time on my hands for the first time in over 20 years... which felt strange. It was not necessarily a bad thing, just quite new. Of course, there was the collection to think of but without physical meetings, without the show and with an edited collection, I had time to think. Quarantine got me kind of nostalgic about my student years at the Antwerp Academy (I started at the age of 18 in 1994 and graduated in 1998). It got me thinking of why I wanted to get into fashion in the first place. We are so much discussing the future of fashion and I wanted tog o back to my very first motivations.

The generation of designers that emerged before you from Antwerp completely redefined what it means to run a fashion label which of those designers, and which of their philosophies, have you held closest to your heart throughout your career?

Actually, last December, I was invited back to The Academy for a group shot with other Belgian designers and Artists for T Magazine. It was the first time in 20 years I set foot again in that building and it was quite emotional. I left Antwerp for Paris aged 22, and so my whole career has been about this mix of this Antwerp education and the work reality of Parisian Fashion Houses. I had met most designers before, and I have always admired their independence and strong identities. Strangely enough, I did meet Ann Demeulemeester for the first time there and that did feel lkie meeting an idol.

You mentioned that this work feels more personal and raw than your work at the big houses over the past two decades – do you think it’s important to always revisit what made you excited about fashoi n in the first place? And if so, why?

This project needed to be very personal, and I had been photographing, scanning, cutting and pasting tons of images, throwing it all away two days later... I guess it was kind of complicated to do something of today without including Berluti, but which would then make it « me for Berluti », less personal. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do at Berluti, but it is still me for a brand... its a mix of both universes. So I ended up digging up my Antwerp Academy stuff, ... all part of my nostalgic quarantine mood. I used to do a lot of these kind of inspiration collages (these are from 1996), I have books full of them. I hadn’t looked at them in years and it felt really personal, the young me. And still quite accurate. So I scanned some favorite pages and that’s it.

Do you think that nostalgia can be a productive emotion? Has revisiting your beginnings made you think differently about how you want to run a brand moving forward?

I feel nostalgia can be productive but too much of it could be paralyzing... It’s no good in the sense where everything was better before. But remembering what got me started has been really positive.

For the cover, Replica connected you with the artist Mohamed Bourouissa to make a sculptural portrait. What was it that appealed to you about Mohamed’s work initially?

I have been following Mohamed’s work for a long time. He is very much “hands on”, very intense in what he does. He takes the time to really immerse in the subjects he’s working on and that gives a lot of depth to his work. I guess it’s no wonder he immediately got stuck on a picture I have on my chimney of my grandmother, someone I was very close to and who played a part in my young years as a fashion student. (She was the ultimate esthetic and helped me sew my first clothes.)

What was your response when seeing the piece for the first time?

It’s a mixture of both loving the work as a piece and than feeling it’s really weird I’m in it! But the part where my grandmother’s face and mine overlap is heartwarming.