‘I absolutely deserve waffles…’ Walter Van Beirendonck talks taste
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My personal style signifier is obviously my beard but also my rings. I have one on every finger. I have a diamond one that my mother wore all her life, two from Morocco, one that was made out of a coin that my parents bought in Greece, and two designed by my husband: one with a large fire topaz and another that is aquamarine.
The last thing I bought and loved was A City Behind the Forest, a book about art created by patients at the Aarhus Psychiatric Hospital in Denmark from the mid-19th century until 2018. I love outsider art, and photographer and writer Albert Grøndahl captured the work beautifully.
The thing I couldn’t do without is work, so I’m going to say it’s the pen I use to draw – my Stabilo Sensor – and sketch pad. I was head of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts fashion course in Antwerp until last year, but I never stopped creating designs for my own label, and I never will. I work in a very physical way, constantly sketching.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a small brown plastic doll that I found in a market in Berlin. It’s the character Pittiplatsch from the ’70s East German children’s TV show Sandmännchen. I have a huge collection of dolls. This one is simple but represents so many memories.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Kold Angst by the Danish crime writer Mads Peder Nordbo. I really don’t read much fiction unless I am on holiday and when I do, I like airport novels. It was an easy, if distressing, read.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a set of chairs to my husband for his birthday that were handmade in Mexico. They aren’t by a notable designer, they are just unusual and beautiful-looking. I like how raw they are, with elements of straw woven into them.
And the best gift I’ve received is a pair of earrings from Uzbekistan from my husband. He knows my taste so well.
The last music I downloaded was Hideous Bastard, the solo album by Oliver Sim from The xx. He made a sweet video for the song “Fruit” that I find very touching. I like his way of singing.
In my fridge you’ll always find a lot of fresh, farm-bought vegetables and fruits. We also always have boxes of Ginstberg Belgian mineral water. We buy it in a cardboard container, so it’s a bag in a box – we don’t have plastic bottles in the house.
An indulgence I would never forgo is desserts. I hope my doctor isn’t reading this because I’m always being told not to gain weight, but I’m just so fond of waffles and pancakes. I see them as treats, and I absolutely deserve them because I work so hard.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was from my own collection for this season. I never really buy any other clothes – I just make a personal order. The most recent piece I added is a green hoodie with a red graphic on it and text that reads “otherworldly – reboot provocative power”. I also regularly buy Reebok Pumps, a style I have been wearing since the ’90s because they are so comfortable.
An object I would never part with is a painting by Juli Dudás Vankóné, the Hungarian artist who died in 1984. Again, her work belongs to a naïve, outsider movement in art that I am really drawn to. I have been visiting Budapest for 25 years and found a piece by her in a gallery and had to have it. It’s such a simple piece of work, but it gives me great pleasure to see it in our house.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is possibly Louis Marcussen, who worked under the name of Ovartaci, which translates loosely as “chief patient”. I saw some of his work at the Venice Biennale recently and was really moved by it. It’s fantastical, with mythological elements. His story is incredible – he changed gender, but then later reverted to identifying as a man. His life story is fascinating and the work is beautiful.
The grooming staple I’m never without is Yatagan by Caron. I have been wearing the same fragrance since I was at college, and Dries [Van Noten] wore it too, so we always smelled the same. It’s a woody fragrance with a lot of patchouli. I heard at one point they were discontinuing it and I panicked, but I’ve found a place in Paris that has a lot of stock of it.
My favourite building is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, the house designed above a waterfall that was built in the late ’30s. It’s strange because I’ve never actually visited it, but I am so intrigued by it, and I think it looks incredible.
My grooming guru is my barber, Alain Maître, at 8 Rue Saint-Claude in Paris. I don’t go to anyone else. I need to go to see him very soon to tend to my beard. I like how each visit is a ritual, with a lot of hot and cold towels.
My drink of choice is Hoegaarden white beer, which is Belgian, of course. I find it really refreshing, but I only have one as I get drunk very quickly.
My style icon is David Bowie. He was the man who showed me what clothes could mean, and how you could create a persona with them. I was about 13 when he first made an impact on me. I was living in a small village, and suddenly here was this gender-fluid individual with the most incredible look, and such strength. Ziggy Stardust remains my favourite Bowie era.
The works of art that changed everything for me are by Paul McCarthy. He didn’t just change my way of thinking about art, but about the whole world. The multimedia piece he created with Mike Kelley, Heidi, is incredible. It’s based on the children’s character written by Johanna Spyri, but it contains so much aggression and a mixture of so many different emotions. It showed me how you could tell a story with heavy content in a funny and culturally relevant way.
When I need to feel inspired, I explore architecture. The graphics in my latest collection are inspired by a 12th-century mosaic in the cathedral in Otranto in Italy. I had been to see it before, but I went back over the summer and spent a lot of time studying it – it contains so many elements, from the tree of life to unicorns and other strange creatures. It has a pagan quality to it that I find very appealing.
The best bit of advice I ever received was to have patience. My career has been a rollercoaster, with so many highs and lows. But I was told early on to keep going, and it’s something I try to reinforce in students now. Nothing happens quickly, you have to build up to it. I am completely independent, which is a great position to be in. And I feel like I am respected in the industry, which hasn’t always been the case. It’s taken a long time to get here.
My party playlist always includes Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. It’s the ultimate disco record. Nothing else makes you feel the same way when you hear the intro. Although I’d put Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” on the list too.
In another life, I would have worked with animals or flowers. I love the idea of working in a park or zoo. I’d work with the elephants because I’d enjoy giving them a hug from time to time.
I’ve recently rediscovered my collection of vinyl. It’s such a different experience to listen to music by taking the disc out of the sleeve and then turning it over once you’ve played one side. It is evocative of my life as a teenager. I’ve been listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, his industrial-noise record from the mid-’70s. You can’t really listen to it as music. It’s just a concept.
The place that means a lot to me is Italy. I have been working there since the ’80s, so I can speak fluent work Italian. It’s my favourite destination for holidays. Last summer we went on a trip travelling from Venice in the north, down to Puglia. We recently bought a small house on a hill in the Le Marche region, so we can have a home there.