Born: Flamersheim, Germany, 3 January 1962. Education: Studied fashion at the Royal Academy of Arts, Antwerp. Military Service: Served with Royal Belgian Army, in Germany. Career: Freelance designer for Nero, Bassetti, Gruno and Chardin, Tiktiner, Gaffa, K, and Jaco Petti, 1982-87; launched Dirk Bikkembergs-Homme Co., with DB shoe line for men, 1985; introduced knitwear, 1986; first complete menswear collection, 1988; presented first womenswear line, Dirk Bikkembergs-Homme Pour La Femme, in Paris, 1993; moved to more luxe styling, 1998; participated in Mode 2001 Landed-Geland, Antwerp, 2001. Awards: For menswear collection, winter 1985-86, several Belgian fashion industry awards, including Golden Spindle. Address: Kidporp 21, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium.
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I design clothes for men and women that have a special, strong attitude; for a younger, future-minded generation for whom fashion
I design collections that give one whole strong look, a vision of life, men and women with items that are nonchalant and easy to mix, give freedom and don't restrict the wearer; but there are always special pieces that are stronger and more defined, marking a certain period of time and setting a sign.
My clothes are never retro. I hate the idea of looking back. I don't have any idols from the past. I do strongly believe in tomorrow and the future of the human race. To achieve this I devote a lot of attention to the cut and fabric that I use. Yes, I tend to think about my clothes as fashion and I'm not afraid of that, nor are my clients.
I design strong clothes for strong individuals rather than wrapping up pretentious nerds in sophisticated cashmere. Nothing is so boring as a "nice and neat" look. Life is just too good and too short for that.
Dirk Bikkembergs is one of the so-called Group of Six designers who have dominated the Belgian fashion scene in the last two decades in a country not previously known as a fashion mecca. Bikkembergs and several other graduates of the Royal Academy of the Arts at Antwerp—Ann Demuelemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Walter Von Beirendonck, and Martin Margiela—have brought new attention to avant-garde fashion in Belgium. Deconstructionist in their designs, they have added such innovations as exposed seams, loose-fitting garments, and ragged edges.
Heavyweight fabrics and macho imagery quite literally dominate Bikkembergs' work. His best designs convey a solidity through their layering of leather and thick knitwear while still retaining the feeling of minimalist restraint that has come to be associated with Belgian fashion. Bikkembergs, although not the most prominent of the designers who formed the Belgian avant-garde of the later 1980s, is nonetheless a significant purveyor of their ideals. His clothing consists of dark and muted-toned separates that provide strong images of modern living, although his own work does not so frequently contain the deconstructed edge of his counterparts.
Bikkembergs first came to prominence with his treatment of footwear. A specialist in the field, he brought together the traditions of well-made, hard-wearing shoes made up for him by Flanders craftspeople with the late 1980s and early 1990s who epitomized the era's obsession with workwear. His designs were inspired by classic functional styles; he reworked the clearly defined shapes of 1930s' football boots, making them into neat, round-toed, lace-up urban footwear in 1987. In 1993, he tampered with the weighty infantry-man's boot, stripping it of its utilitarian status when, with a deconstructivist flourish, he removed the eyelets that normally punctuated the boot and accommodated the distinctive high lacing. Instead, a hole was drilled into the sole through which the laces had to be threaded and then wrapped around the boot's leather upper to secure it to the foot. The style soon became de rigueur for both men and women in fashion circles, with copies being sold in High Street chains. Like all his other work, they were based on familiar designs that conveyed traditional notions of masculinity, conjuring up images of sporting and military heroics. Such ideals have also pervaded his menswear.
His carefully styled shows send muscle-bound models down the catwalk clad in the obligatory biker boots and black leather that become a staple of the late 20th-century male wardrobe. This machismo continued in his signature knitwear range. Heavy-ribbed V necks were worn with lightweight jogging bottoms or matching woolen leggings. His work may not show the more slim-line feminine notes that have been gradually breaking through the previously limited spectrum of menswear designs, but they still have influence. Bikkembergs helped widen the scope of knitwear with witty takes on classic Aran jumpers and cardigans and by using decorative detailing to add interest to simple designs: in 1992 with bright blue zips on either side of burnt orange sweaters, while back in 1987 by adding them to the high-necked jumpers popular at the time.
Although he works best with winter-weight fabrics, Bikkembergs still adds twists to his summer collections. In 1988, he produced collared linen waistcoats that could be layered over long-sleeved shirts or worn alone to give interest to plain suits. It was in the late 1980s that his designs were most attuned to the zeitgeist. He provided the overblown masculine imagery so popular then; this was encapsulated in his distinctive marketing, which demonstrated the same eye for detail. The catalogues produced for each collection show in grainy black and white his tough masculine ideals with his commandeering of popular stereotypes like the biker.
Despite this concentration on menswear, his work has extended to a womenswear range. In 1993, his first collection was warmly received, bringing together both his love of strong silhouettes and a deconstructed minimalism to provide a twist to basic shapes. The natural counterpart to his masculine lines, it carried through his use of sturdy footwear and accessories that had always been popular with women as well.
As part of the rise in status of Belgian fashion since in the later years of the 20th century, Bikkembergs' work appeals to the fashion cognoscenti. The overt masculinity of his designs is combined with a knowledge and exploitation of traditional styles to provide stark, modern imagery. If not as well known as contemporaries like Van Noten, he had still carved a niche for his work and heralded a fresh slant to his output with a divergence into womenswear.
In the late 1990s, Bikkembergs departed from his characteristic masculine style to enter the couture market with elegant tailored pantsuits. They still included his customary metallic effects, however, such as silver necktie knots and metal fox heads on fur boas. He also experimented with a lattice look, creating trellises of woven leather or knits, and he offered other knitwear with metallic accessories. His womenswear lines have included unadorned, tailored capes, long skirts, and reefer jackets.
In 1998 at a Milan fashion show, Bikkembergs returned to showy, strong masculine themes in such menswear pieces as form-hugging sweaters or coats with Velcro fastenings. In Paris, he stayed with virile themes and strong graphics. A typical outfit was a singlet with an asymmetrical scooped neckline and a torso crossed with compass twirls, with matching pants. He continued to produce knits with strong geometric patterns as well. Bikkembergs seemed to move more toward luxury at the end of the decade with couture items like a cashmere cat suit for men. His sportswear line has been compared to that of American designers, with items like hooded, zippered tops.
Bikkembergs and the other Group of Six designers participated in the Mode 2001 Landed-Geland, an important fashion festival in Antwerp that firmly established the city as cutting edge in the world of fashion. According to Rebecca Lowthorpe, writing in the Independent on Sunday, these designers offered looks that were "avant-garde, yet for the most part, eminently wearable," with "uncompromisingly hip visions."
updated by Sally A.Myers