The Antwerp Six’s Most Elusive Member on Her New Collection

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This week, Marina Yee presents her first new work in over a decade. Here, she talks to AnOther about the future of the fashion system

Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee were a bande of young fashion designers who graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy in the early 1980s. Despite the fact that each possessed a very different aesthetic, their collective avant-garde manifesto and radical approach to fashion – or, indeed, their rejection of established industry norms – garnered them the name The Antwerp Six. (With Martin Margiela considered to be an honorary member of the group, it is often referred to as The Antwerp Six+1.)

It would be true to say that without the pioneering work of The Six, who first presented collections during London Fashion Week in 1986, fashion as we know it today would look nothing like it does. While Van Noten and Demeulemeester are the names we are most familiar with, the vital legacy of each designer should not be underestimated, including that of Marina Yee, the most elusive of them all. Yee’s work focused on championing the ecological and humanitarian within the fashion system, opening up conversations around sustainability through repurposing second-hand clothing, years before it became a mainstream debate.

Today, after a hiatus spanning over a decade, she presents a new collection – titled M.Y. project – at LAILA TOKIO in Japan, a store and exhibition space which has previously hosted displays of Phoebe Philo’s first collection for Céline and archival pieces from Helmut Lang. Here, we speak to the designer about her new work and why she thinks that fashion’s best hope lies with Generation Z. 

On why 2018 felt like the right time to present new work...
“I’ve been feeling very happy for the last few years. So this has freed me to come out and present new work. I lived for a very long time – not in the shadows, exactly – but I never published much of what I was making. I’ve always done things that I liked, but never put it out publicly. I really left the fashion system in the 1980s when I left The Six. It was very difficult for me then. It wasn’t really my thing. And when I say this, what I mean is, I wasn’t into having investors and dealing with the production side of things. I was not ready. It took me so long to know what my identity was and what it had to do with the fashion world. I am a creative chameleon; I am a fashion designer, and that’s my education. But I have much more in me and I am interested in a lot more than only fashion. 

“For the new project – which is called M.Y. Project – I wanted to produce something with a very small number of items: a few coats, a few shirts, using the colours navy blue and black only. It is the antidote to what is happening now in fashion, which is a buffet of so many things at once. I did some prototypes and people loved it and said ‘this is exactly what we need right now’. It’s the right moment for me. And although it’s maybe the worst time to do something in fashion, I have adapted to that. I’ve always been a little bit of a rebel.”

On showing at LAILA TOKIO...
“It’s a long story. But LAILA TOKIO invited me to do this. I was ready for something and they were welcoming to me. They saw my collection, they got in contact. Then we met in Antwerp and in Paris and got to know each other. I think we’re on the same page when it comes to the philosophy of truthful fashion; of beauty in fashion, of ignoring the pressures of ‘you must’ and ‘you should’; the pressure of a system that is so focused on money making. Also, LAILA TOKIO is in Japan, which is one of my favourite countries. The Japanese people understand my aesthetic and my philosophy of making things that are precious, alongside a slow fashion mentality, conscious use of form, material and colour. Simplicity is a holy word for me, but to use it in this age is not easy. So, I am very happy that I found a common ground in a very fast running fashion industry. I am also showing my artwork there, alongside the collection. They are very childlike drawings which have no monetary value, but they have personal value and mean so much to me.”

On the future of the fashion system...
“It’s getting better. We’re not there yet. But if we look at what is happening around us, environmentally, we don’t have a choice, do we? If we want to continue making fashion, we need to do so consciously. It’s difficult to do everything, but even by starting to do something that is a change in itself. We need to think about how we can take action to not use fur, for example, and to make things sustainably. The younger generation, my son, for example, was born with this mindset. They know. Through the internet, it becomes common knowledge. So society has to follow it. And fashion is part of society and a way of expressing ourselves.”

On her own future...
“Who knows! More adventures, I hope. I hope to be creative and happy. I am a free person and I’m already very satisfied with my life. It has not always been easy, but then again, whose life ever is? Now I feel content. That I can do anything I want. I am a bohemian, and I create all the time and I will never stop. That is the future. That’s my goal.”

M.Y. Project runs at LAILA TOKIO, Japan until September 9, 2018.