Veronique Branquinho (date unknown)
At what point were you first aware that you were becoming a fashion designer?
I was quite young when I determined to be a designer. I was maybe around fourteen years old and I was interested in drawing. I noticed the emergence of the famous 'six' Belgian designers [Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee, Dirk van Saene, Dries Van Noten and Dirk Bikkembergs]. It was the first time that I connected to fashion, because I loved fashion, but it always seemed really far away from me. It was the period of Montana, Mugler, Gaultier; very much fashion as a show. Very far away. When I saw those Belgian designers I felt 'yes, this is what I understand and what I could do'. I was really closely connected to them, so they gave me the start. Then I moved from a normal school to an art school, in preparation for the Academy.
Of what relevance is your training at the Fashion Department of The Fine Arts Academy of Antwerp to your current practice?
There are two aspects to this. I see this like a phase, in a lifetime. I don't think what I do now has much to do with the Academy. I came to the Academy in 1991 when I was eighteen years old, not a fully formed person. They help you to discover what's inside of you. They don't force you to do things, they just help you to say what you have to say. You get more formed and when you leave (in 1995) you're more certain of yourself. More secure. Then, when you start your own collection (for me, in 1997), it's nothing that you can be prepared for. It's not something you can learn about. It was a very useful phase of my life, to have been surrounded by creative people like painters, photographers, a lot of my friends come from the Academy. It was a very important time of self-discovery.
Can you describe how you approach designing a new collection: which bits do you keep and which do you discard?
Those decisions are made very intuitively. When I'm working on a collection, I'm looking for a certain shape or a certain form of garment. For me, it's like the pure form that's important. It's like purity. When you find that pure shape, I don't see the need to change it every six months because it's summer or winter. That's why I keep a lot of the same shapes. That's the base, you know. Like when I was looking for the perfect pair of trousers. I worked a long time to have this shape. Of course I will do other shapes, but for me, those are the essence. It's difficult in a society that is so reliant on change, and some use the charge of continuity as a form of criticism, doing the same things. But it's a big collection, like ninety different models, and (of which) maybe only six are the same.
Do you have any stock sources of inspiration that help you out in a creative crisis?
I have notebooks everywhere in the house. Every time I think of something, I just make a note. When I start working on a collection, sometimes it's really conceived in my head: 'its going to be that', and I start with a certain mood. Then sometimes I want colour: it's more of an abstract process, like a mood. It's very difficult to talk about. Those notebooks, I always have a look at and some ideas from them fit into the collection. I start more with a mood than with a shape or something. The first few seasons were very much about this 'double life', duality and womenhood. I could find that in Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer. Since then, it's been following me, this character of Laura Palmer. In any collection of mine, it's about the question 'what is a woman? What is the inner nature of being a woman?' It's still about what you feel.
Much has been made of the treatment of femininity in your clothes. What you have characterised as a 'duality' of womanhood or the progression from girl to woman in the designs, some critics have identified as a lack of overt sexuality. Do you think this is a fair assessment?
Sometimes people say my designs are sexless and I feel 'oh my God! It's not meant to be!' Maybe that's just the way you look at sexuality, it's different for everybody. For me, it's very much about what's going on in your head, about a certain mood. It's not about showing breasts and legs. It's a very intellectual thing. Belgians are very reserved people and it's not about showing off at all. It doesn't mean that what I want to say is sexless. On the contrary, the collections are very close to me and what I'm living through. I'm not a sexless person; I like the way that it gets a little bit complicated, a little bit mysterious. To conquer sex is much more attractive than the act itself. The tension between two people; that's harder to get than to merely show off a body.
For your A/W '03 collection, upon which Jean Francois Carly's film is based, you have said the inspiration was ice-dancing competitions. Again, this is a forum in which girls are encouraged to be confident and powerful. Is this something you consciously pursue?
I think the girls that ice-dance are considered confident mostly by the outside world, but they still have certain insecurities. The thing with ice-dancers is that they are looked at as big ladies who can do a lot of things but in fact, they are also insecure about failure and things that can go wrong, about growing up too early. It's very ambiguous. I think they are too sensitive to be secure, as that would be arrogant. They are not that.
Do you see a difference between looking at your clothes captured in film to those in still imagery?
I really like to see them in films because when I'm making a collection, it's not only a static thing. It's also about movement, it's very important. I really love ballet and dancing and ice-skating because of the movement of the clothes. Also, when you are making a picture, it's more like a set-up: it gets more like perfection because you can camouflage all the faults. It can look much better on a picture, but I like the natural way of moving it. It's the way they are meant to be, it's not a museum exhibit or gallery piece. They belong to the streets and people's lives.
You have said that your collections are personal diaries: records of your innermost feelings. How do you reconcile such an intimate act with putting them up for review before a critical audience?
It's really hard sometimes. For me, every six months it's the same story. You put all this energy into it and show it. Whether the reviews are good or bad, you've still put the same amount of energy into it. I'm trying to get used to it but criticism can be positive, building. It also gives me more energy to do more, as I'm not finished yet. It's never one opinion: you try to take some distance. The press opinions can be quite contradictory and then you have the customers, friends, other people. If you can get something positive out of it, it's better.
Do you take notice of other designers' work? Who do you consider to be your peers?
I'm very interested in other people's work. What I've tried to do is just to say what I have to say. I think that's what the others do too. The people who I admire are very much into their own world. I think that's the only way to do it. When I started, there was Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, you know, they're very much into their own world. Now, I think somebody like Hussein Chalayan is doing what he's doing. Helmut Lang has been doing it for a long time already. Maybe during those ten years, the press has been less positive than others, but he was still doing his thing. It's now the sixth year that I've been busy and I guess opinions change, but I can only do what I'm doing.
What do you think it means to categorise you as a 'Belgian designer'?
It's very much created by the press: 'Belgian Designers'. There was a time, maybe two years ago, when it was at the top. Everything Belgian was great and now, the press have maybe had enough. So now when you say it's Belgian design, people are like 'yeah, they're always dark, always negative'. It's what they make of it. I don't like those etiquettes, but I am Belgian and I am a designer. The only thing I have in common with Ann Demeulemeester or other people is that we are all Belgian and we are all designers, but we're all doing our own work. We're not following trends.