8 Things
Alexandra Verschueren, Fashion Designer

At 22, Alexandra Verschueren has interned for Preen, Proenza Schouler, and Derek Lam. She’s been honored by a jury that included former Rochas creative director Olivier Theyskens and the International Herald Tribune’s fashion critic Suzy Menkes. And in the last six months, her graduate collection Medium has been fêted by Wallpaper magazine and the Mode Museum in her hometown of Antwerp. So why, when she applied to that city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts straight out of high school, did no one expect she’d get in? “I had never really drawn before,” says the designer, marveling at her good fortune. “They took me on and said you’ll have to work very hard, but I think they liked my mentality. Besides, they like when people don’t know where they stand as a designer. That way, they can shape you.”

Over the next four years, Verschueren learned from the best, studying under designers like Dirk Van Saene and Walter Van Beirendonck, who taught her how she could tell a story and translate a concept rather than simply manipulate fabric. For Medium, she was inspired by the intricately crafted paper tableaus of German artist Thomas Demand. “When you look at his work, you don’t know if it’s real or fake. I wanted to explore that artificiality, but I was also interested in how you could translate the idea of paper into garments.” She used easily mutable fabrics — wool, cotton-poly blends, Tyvek, and one silhouette in actual paper — cutting, pleating, and folding them to recall the work of Japanese origami masters like Masahiro Chatani.

The public swooned, but Verschueren is frustrated by the fact that most of the collection isn’t yet wearable. “I used a lot of starch, and all of the prints are drawn by hand. But I just finished working on my PhD proposal, which would give me the chance to experiment for four years and to work with the textile engineering department to create fabrics that can be pleated but essentially look the same once they’ve been washed and dried.” The program would also give her the chance to create work that’s more reflective of her incredibly diverse set of influences. What follows are just a few.

Alexandra Verschueren’s work will be on view at the Festival of Hyères from April 30th to May 3. For more info on the festival, click here.

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"I have always been interested in fashion," Verschueren says. "My parents were both linguists, and they organized congresses all over the world — Mexico, China, South Africa, Australia. My brother and sister and I would go with them, and it was fascinating to see different ethnicities through the lens of fashion."

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Children’s drawings: For Medium’s hand-drawn prints, Verschueren tried to capture the feeling of drawings like this one, which she made when she was three years old. “Kids draw really freely, with crude strokes and without hesitation,” she says. “I would never think to draw like this now. A zebra full-on without its face in profile? I’m too much of a control freak.”

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Tableaus vivants: There’s a rigorousness to Verschueren’s process and a theatricality in her work, so it makes sense that she counts obsessively art-directed movies like The Life Aquatic and Peter Greenaway’s Drowning By Numbers (pictured) among her inspirations. “Both movies rely on the ‘shape’ of how things are visualized,” she says. “The way they put images together, the way they put food on the table and place the actors — the way they depict everything is almost as important as the storyline.”

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Lygia Clark: Vershueren’s sense of geometry and structure recall the work of artists like Frank Stella, Sol LeWitt, and the Brazilian constructivist Lygia Clark, one of whose hinged Bichos pieces is shown above. “I’ve always been fascinated by shapes and forms, their dimension and their influence on space. I often look at these artists for inspiration in creating shapes for my garments.”

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Michael Heizer: “I've had an obsession with land art recently,” says Verschueren, citing Robert Smithson, Richard Long, and the Berkeley-born Michael Heizer, whose Isolated Mass/Circumflex at the Menil Collection in Houston is pictured above. “It’s fascinating how they can influence the environment by making small adjustments. That's something I look to as a designer. How can you make a garment more interesting without a lot of changes?”

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Charles James: Vershueren recently discovered the work of the architecturally minded American couturier at a Vionnet exhibition in Paris. “They always say she was the one who pushed boundaries in the early 1900s,” she says. “That’s true, but the way James deconstructed garments was really avant-garde. I heard he once worked on one pair of sleeves for three months. He died poor in the end, so maybe it wasn’t so smart, but I like that he was that passionate.”

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Sonneveld House: Vershueren visited Brinkman and Van der Vlugt’s 1933 modernist masterpiece in Rotterdam a few years ago and was fascinated by its modern look and bold use of interior color. “I am actually applying for a PhD in the arts — Building Garments: Researching Fashion Design Through Architecture. Even though there have been some exhibitions about the possible link, it’s always about the visual parallels between the two. I’d like to compare the creative processes for both fields to see how fashion could benefit from that more profound way of thinking about design.”

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Fabric charts Verschueren made for her Medium collection. “I’m obsessed with making lists and organizing everything. It doesn’t even need to be fulfilled, as long as I have made the list, and I do it for everything, from grocery shopping, to my schedule, to sorting fabrics.”

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“This is a verb list I found by Richard Serra, an artist whose work I deeply admire.”

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Ruth Bernhard: Like most designers, Verschueren is fascinated by bodies, and she’s drawn to the Berlin-born, early 20th century photographer's work. “Her pictures can be scary in a way because they’re so explicit, but I like the way she depicts woman. They look dangerous, even though they’re very sensual, and it’s nice to see that aggression through a woman’s point of view.”

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Smithereens: Verschueren spent three months interning for Proenza Schouler in New York last summer, and Susan Seidelman’s directorial debut makes the designer nostalgic for the Big Apple. “While seeing it, it makes me glad to be back in Antwerp, but after 10 minutes I start missing New York again. In the movie, the lead deals with some questions that keep me busy nowadays as well: Where do I belong? Where is home? That’s something that’s becoming quite hard to pinpoint.”

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Polaroids: “I consider myself to be a very bad amateur photographer, or not even a photographer at all. But while I’m working on a collection there’s nothing more therapeutic then taking random shots of my tiny studio. I usually photograph the rooftops across the street, my sewing machine (which I call Rocky), or the fax machine.”

Frederik Heyman photoshoot-favorite technique)

A look from the Medium collection, shot and styled by the Belgian photographer Frederik Heyman, who documented Verschueren and her fellow graduates for the year-end magazine Show/Off #2. “He really translated the idea of artificiality and fragility in a playful manner,” Verschueren says.

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A look from the Medium collection. "I colored in the trousers and for the top, I played with the idea of ink on blotting paper," Verschueren says.

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Verschueren is working to commercialize some of Medium's pieces but says: "If people can enjoy the collection, I am already happy."