Creating character

Walter Van Beirendonck on his fascination with masks
By Alex Baker | Fashion | 2 March 2018

Top image: Walter van Beirendonck FW17, photography by Alexandre Sallé de Chou 

“My fascination for masks started from the beginning of my career,” Walter van Beirendonck tells us. “I use them in my collections when I think they fit the collection and make the idea and look stronger.”

For van Beirendonck, masks add character and drama to his pieces. More than simply clothes, his collections act as performance works spanning mixed mediums and narratives. From his SS15 animal masks to his FW18 PVC, pig gimp masks through his FW12 Freddy Krueger-esque killer face coverings, the Antwerp Six designer’s back catalogue uncovers a wide variety of masks with a common use: to extend, contextualise and emphasise his dramatic vision.

Now the designer has taken his fascination to the next level, having presented an exhibition dedicated to masks at the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam, the designer has turned this show into an epic 240-page tome. Creating a dialogue across multiple disciplines, the publication draws together work by Paul McCarthy, Keith Haring, Louise Bourgeois, Leigh Bower, Man Ray and Pablo Picasso, in order to provide a comprehensive insight into the history and uses of masks.

Here, van Beirendonck talks us through his interest in masks and how they add an extra layer to his dramatic creations. 


Alex Baker: Can you talk us through the masks in your latest collection?
Walter van Beirendonck: In my show, Worlds of Sun & Moon, the veil covered the head completely held together by black duct-tape around the neck and finished off with the glasses covering the eyes completely, this could be interpreted as a kind of mask which is changing his appearance, identity and look. When I was working on my research, it became more and more clear that African masks and their aesthetics had a big influence on a series of artists. These masks (and the black artists making them) really changed the evolution of modern European and American art.

Alex Baker: Is the imagery a personal collection of references you have collected over the years?
Walter: I worked more than two years on the research, preparation, sketching and installation of Powermask, it was an intense process. I had such enthusiastic support from the Wereldmuseum, the most difficult part was to convince all these creative people and artists to participate and loan their work for the exhibition. We were all very proud that we were able to create and make a very unique exhibition for this rather ‘old fashioned’ museum, and even more proud that it became a huge success. Making the book, together with Paul Boudens, was another adventure. I really wanted a ‘clashing content’ book, which was exactly how I put together Powermask, with spontaneously selected and placed images from completely different worlds which came together. Everything was sourced and brought together especially for Powermask. Over the years I already knew a lot of the topics and subjects I showed, but it became all more clear by making and putting together the exhibition; the synergy in Powermask is very strong.

Gallery: Walter van Beirendonck FW17, photography by Alexandre Sallé de Chou


Alex: If you were stuck wearing one mask for the rest of your life what would it look like?
Walter: Probably a mask looking like my Walter-icon-face (you know this red nude Walter-man?).

Alex: Building a narrative is a big part of your work, what journey would you hope the reader of the book takes throughout the chapters?
Walter: I hope that the Powermask book can surprise, entertain and give joy to the reader. I think that it is a nice souvenir for the visitors, and a nice document for the people that could not visit the exhibition.

Tony Saulnier, A Paris, rue Jacob, le diner des Collectionneurs de t+¬tes, 1966, Univers Match

Powermask is available here via Lannoo publishing.

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