The audience at the Walter Van Beirendonck show was greeted with plastic satchels containing ear plugs, a hint that the Belgian designer would treat them to a boisterous affair.
Yet it all started rather quietly, with just a few tom-tom beats. This was just a warm-up. The white curtain soon parted, revealing a wild (and that’s an understatement) band of otherworldly creatures with square hay bodies, ghoulish faces, and endless horns on their heads. They madly yet endearingly beat on tin drums made from old auto parts.
This band, whose members actually look like cool rockers when they doff their costumes, is called Seidae Pass. They hail from the Austrian region of Tyrol, where, since 1999, they’ve been perpetuating a local tradition called Percht, a procession that takes place in the winter, and whose aim is to chase away evil winter ghosts. Van Beirendonck discovered their work when he stumbled upon one of their viral videos (inevitably recalling Rick Owens’ discovery of the rambunctious Estonian rock band Winny Puuh a few years ago).
Mixing folkloric magic with audaciousness, the superb performance was in tune with the designer’s aesthetic. It also offered a perfect backdrop to a truly terrific collection that was his most wearable to date. But don’t get us wrong; Walter is not The Gap. Although the line-up contained a sizable number of nifty suits, sleeves were elongated with mammoth, cartoony gloves.
The models’ faces were topped by baseball caps and surrounded by bejeweled scarves, creating a Balmoral look that was also palpable in the autumnal and countryside palette of greens and brown. The most whimsical pieces in the shows were rather simple (pants, a jumpsuit) but adorned with child-like drawings of a wild animal sticking his red tongue out, and often holding a miniature version of the legendarily bearded designer.
The parade ended on a high note, with possibly the strongest outerwear statement of the season so far, capes-cum-jackets that were folded and held together by leather belts, thus ventilating the body. I don’t know why, but the show’s neo-classicism, with its scarves and bourgeois references, at times made me think of what Hermès could look like if it went edgy.
Inspired by shamanism, Van Beirendonck called the collection Zwart, which is Dutch for black. It was meant as a reflection on the current state of the world, but the designer said backstage that he still wanted the show to be positive. So was the reaction of the audience.