In September, Walter Van Beirendonck
's first 25 years in business will be celebrated by Dream the World Awake
, a huge retrospective in his hometown of Antwerp. An equally sizeable monograph will mark the moment for posterity. They're the kind of acknowledgements that would make any designer blissfully happy. And that was clearly Walter's state of mind when he called his new collection Cloud #9. "It's the highest state of happiness," he said backstage. But this was nirvana WVB-style: a hyper-state of ice cream-colored jacquards and starburst-patchworked plaids, with matching bow ties and shoes and surreally artificial quiffs. It was as though Pee-wee Herman had taken St. Peter's place at the gates of heaven. (The bicep-length leather gloves fashioned after psychedelic Indian totem poles also had something of Pee-wee's Playhouse
The parade climaxed in orgasmic explosions of ruffles that would have made Leigh Bowery green with envy. A collaboration with Austrian artist Erwin Wurm, the frills managed to be playful and
menacing, a balance that Van Beirendonck has mastered over the years. It was that same paradoxical spirit that saw his immaculately sharp tailoring steadily devolve into shreds as the show wore on. In Walt's world, chaos follows order as night follows day. It's not the conventional take on progress, but it's all his. And we love him for it.