Bernhard Willhelm Goes Back to School

The 18 (or so it seemed) chandeliers that blinged above the waiting runway of Vienna’s University of Applied Arts graduate collection signaled a change. A far cry from the previous year’s stadium, this group show was housed in the elegant Orangerie of Schönbrunn, residence of the former Austro-Hungarian imperial family.

Precipitating the change was the hiring of a man not known for subtlety, Bernhard Willhelm, as head professor for the university’s fashion track, taking over for previous luminaries who include include Helmut Lang, Raf Simons and Vivienne Westwood. As as the lights dimmed and we entered a wild world of color, theatricality and a bit of confusion, the answer to what his curriculum had been became clear.

The show opened with what appeared to be a Viennese ode to the streets (however, not the streets of Vienna) with models laughing and vamping in fake gold chains and deconstructed T-shirts with the words “I ♥ Vienna” across them. Following this came more drama with owl-printed opera coats, Pan fluting techno, a couple of children and an interlude drag performance. Yes, just twenty minutes into the nearly 1½ -hour-long presentation and there could be no doubt that Bernhard Willhelm was in charge. As for the students’ work, there were some serious moments that went by, pieces and fragments that were honestly progressive and well-made.

Graduating this year, Elizaveta Fateeva showed boundary-pushing silhouttes in a modestly chic frame, while Bernhard Gruber’s whimsical take on his Austrian heritage produced standout oversized bags and capes. For her part, Stella Achenbach offered beautiful, tricked-out bathing suits. Other highlights included Andra Dumitrascu’s multi-patterned work, which called to mind the iconic images of mid-century Malian photographer Seydou Keita. Luciano Raimondi pulled off a nearly flawless presentation that was at once calm and unobtrusive, yet still loud in its own way.

Last year, under the tutelage of Veronique Branquino, a much more austere line ran through the collections. How can so many students make a complete turnaround within the space of one year? During an interview with, Bernhard Willhelm said of his teaching methods, “When I see step-by-step how a student’s collection develops, and if we’ve talked it over, then this aesthetic doesn’t have to have anything to do with me.” Many in the audience would have disagreed.

—Adia Trischler for, photos Shoji Fuji

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