We Like — New Expressionism

Tim Van Steenbergen is one of the younger generation of Belgian designers who has been steadily growing an international reputation. And with the presentation of the AW11 collection during Paris Fashion Week, it’s not hard to see why. The clever use of structure that we frequently associate with Belgian fashion is a key feature of Tim Van Steenbergen’s designs, as is the attention to detail.

Tim Van Steenbergen. AW11. Photo: Tomas Vandecasteele

Tim Van Steenbergen. AW11. Photo: Tomas Vandecasteele

But, where other Antwerp designers often work with these attributes to create dramatic structural clothing that may seem impractical or just a little too attention-demanding in many social situations, Van Steenbergen’s garments always retain an elegant femininity and versatility that makes them so popular with his followers.

In recent years these followers have started to count top celebrities amongst their number. For example, Rihanna was spotted house hunting in a dramatic figure-hugging basque whilst at the other end of decorum, Belgium’s Princess Claire sported his designs to the formal celebrations of the country’s national day. The brand’s sunglasses seem to be a particular favourite with celebrities. Kim Cattrall donned elegant shades in one of the ‘Sex & The City’ flicks and George Michael is pictured cool and serene in a pair of Van Steenbergen shades on the cover of his new ‘True Faith’ single released in aid of Comic Relief.

Yet, beneath all the celeb-spotting, Tim Van Steenbergen remains fundamentally a designer schooled in the conceptual approach for which Antwerp is renowned. The AW11 collection, for example, takes the work of German neo-expressionist painter Anselm Keifer as its starting point. No surprise then that Keifer’s dark earthy palette dominates with lead, charcoal, rust, clay and white being the dominant colours and many garments sticking vehemently to a monochromatic colour scheme. Only occasionally does bright colour – in the form of a riotous textile evoking butterflies- crop up as a cleverly draped calf-length dress with asymmetrical sleeve lengths.

Silhouettes are varied ranging from tightly fitted skirts and jackets to an almost 1950’s style of dresses with full skirts and naked shoulders pulled in tightly at the waist. The stark drapery and clever folds that is often a feature of Tim Van Steenbergen’s designs are also notable, here in the form of tunic dresses over tight leggings pulled in Roman-style at the shoulder, as detail on elegant evening coats or adding complexity to beautifully articulated blouses.

The natural and organic feel of Keifer’s materials translates into a fashion context in which natural fabrics range from chunkily woven plaids to the more exotic, such as the use of fish leather on belts. The complex embroidery details –such as that on collars- almost melts into the overall image rather than drawing attention to itself, much like Kiefer’s technique in which the craftsmanship is built up in layer upon layer that requires much closer scrutiny to discern its true nature.

Tim Van Steenbergen. AW11. Photo: Tomas Vandecasteele

Tim Van Steenbergen. AW11. Photo: Tomas Vandecasteele