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Katleen Derijcke: Coordinator and guide at MoMu Antwerp

By Katrien Huysentruyt

30 Sep 2021

People |INTERVIEW

On September 4 and 5, ModeMuseum Antwerp reopened with a solid festive program and exhibitions on the agenda. Guide and coordinator Katleen Derijcke had her hands full in recent weeks, yet she made the time for FashionUnited to talk about her career of 20 years at MoMu.

How do you end up as a guide at MoMu?

I am originally from West Flanders and actually studied to be a teacher - French, history and English. I taught for a few years, but it wasn't for me. Eventually I started working for Living Tomorrow in Vilvoorde. Twenty years ago, I moved to Antwerp because I knew some people in the city at the time, I joined the Friends of MoMu. That's why I was invited to the opening of the museum. There Linda Loppa, then director of the MoMu, spoke to me. We had not even spoken to each other, the reason was purely visual. There was a click and she asked me to guide the MoMu. Then it went very quickly: giving tours to VIPs herself didn't really appeal to her, so I led them around, with Linda next to me. I learned a lot that way. I remember that one time Yohji Yamamoto was too early for an appointment in the museum. Linda was still teaching at the fashion academy and she thought I should take care of him. Now I'm used to a lot, but I was shocked. I had a really good relationship with Loppa, she was my mentor. I learned a lot from her, thanks to her I am where I am today.

About Katleen Derijcke:

  • Age: 58 years old
  • Education: French, History, English
  • Current position: 20 years coordinator and guide at MoMu Antwerp
  • Career background:1982-1994 teacher
  • 1995-1998 operating shoe store (family business)
  • 1999-2002 Living Tomorrow guide

What exactly does your position entail?

In coordination with the colleagues of Public Relations, I lead the guide team. I maintain close contact with the designer. The designer decides how the exhibition should be guided. I then translate their story into a tour for the guides. Through this collaboration, you build up a special bond with the designer. This way I can directly address all my questions or those of the guides. I still love giving guided tours myself. I couldn't do without it. On September 4 MoMu reopens, after three years of renovations. We have trained a new team of guides for this. We found them through a call on social media and made a selection based on age, gender, diversity. There are different types of guides in the team, for each type of group: preschoolers, schools, cultural groups, workshops. Their profiles are very diverse, from a former teacher to someone who has worked in fashion for years.

Do you have a tip for those who want to become MoMu guides?

Some guides already drop out during the training, as the job is easily underestimated. So I always warn newcomers that they will have to study again twice a year, with each new exhibition. The expo, the biographies, and now on top of the silhouettes there is art. It requires a lot of study. Besides, it's not a permanent job. In addition, the museum has been open for twenty years, new guides are only now jumping in. Visitors have often seen all the exhibitions. So it's going to be tough for our new guides, but I have every confidence in them.

Has the work changed you?

My job has given me a very different view of fashion. When I was young, in the 80s, fashion was very much over the top - think of TV series like Dallas and Dynasty. I dressed quite austere even then, including the black nylon stockings that were then only worn at funerals. I was interested in fashion though and bought every issue of the then Mode Dit is Belgisch magazine. I have become much more critical after all these years. I will also never wear anything with a logo, I like to keep it discreet. I like the sober timeless designs, by Margiela, AF Vandevorst, Tim Vansteenbergen. In recent years I have been wearing Dries Van Noten more often. So I also have a bit of a problem with fast fashion. When I show young people around, I try to explain how in the 70s we only got something new at the beginning of a season. But then you walk out of the museum and see the overstuffed bags of cheap chains. I get that everyone stores on a specific budget, but do you really need to buy something new every week? Today I wore a coat that was twenty years old and no one noticed. I've really learned to shop less and much more consciously. Only when I need something do I go looking for it. And if I don't wear clothes anymore, I sell them. I've also learned to wear out clothes. When I showed Yamamoto around his exhibition, he said, "You know, perfection is ugly." I felt caught out. Now I understand and totally agree. It's okay to see that a garment has been worn.

Are there any downsides to your work?

The hardest thing for me sometimes is the lack of respect for designers' work. Because of my job I know some designers personally and I know how much passion they work with. People still don't realize how hard they work on a collection and how much time they spend on it. Every season again, twice a year. I have enormous respect for them. Designers also reflect what is going on in society. They react to social changes, sometimes they are even visionary. We also show this in our opening exhibition E/MOTION. Fashion in transition (from 4/9 to 23/1 in MoMu, nvdr). The attacks of 9/11 were almost 'predicted' or sensed by some designers, fashion photographers. Creative minds are sensitive, they feel events coming. They are also often socially engaged. Think for example of Walter Van Beirendonck's collections or Martin Margiela's AIDS T-shirts.

What project are you really proud of?

The expo for me was 'Margiela, the Hermès years', in 2017. We had already had 'Maison Martin Margiela: '20' the exhibition' in 2008, but this exhibition was really top notch for me. Margiela's own designs were hanging next to the pieces he created for Hermès. That was very informative. It forced the visitor to look closely at the clothes. The exhibition around Dries Van Noten also stayed with me. So beautiful, how he showed his inspiration. Art and fashion were brought together. I love Belgian designers, they are very down to earth, that suits me.

How do you see the future of MoMu?

Of course, it will be completely different. There are now three exhibition rooms instead of one. As a result, we can now finally show the archive collection as well. The lace collection is also something to be proud of, but is still unknown to the public. We are now putting it in the spotlight during 'P.LACE.S - The hidden side of Antwerp' (from 25/9 to 2/1 at five locations in Antwerp, nvdr). There is also the new MoMu Café and we finally have a shop with collabs by former students, beautiful merchandising and other local, sustainable stuff. The offer is very accessible in terms of prices, there is something for everyone.

What does MoMu mean to you?

During the renovation, our offices moved to the Kaasstraat. The students of the fashion academy were able to return to the ModeNatie before us. So there was a nice dynamic in the building again. On my first working day in the renewed MoMu I suddenly felt like a completely different person. The location, the building, the fashion students: it gives me energy and it keeps me young. When I entered the exhibition room for the first time after the renovation, I really got goosebumps. The space has become so beautiful. The scenography of the E/MOTION exhibition is completely different than we are used to. MoMu is back on the map. We are also in a prime location in the center of Antwerp. I am really proud of MoMu and I am very happy that I can work there.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited NL. The text has been translated and edited for an international audience.

Over the past two decades, the Antwerp Fashion Museum has assembled the largest collection of contemporary Belgian fashion in the world. In addition, it regularly presents intriguing exhibitions. After three years of renovation work, MoMu reopened its doors on September 4, 2021. The official opening weekend is also the start of a city festival that runs until January 2022.

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