Last June the world renowned Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts said goodbye to its legendary head of the fashion department, Walter Van Beirendonck. After much speculation Brandon Wen was appointed as the new creative director, a clear choice from the academy towards fresh ideas and new paths for the department. We met with Brandon Wen just two weeks after the news had been announced, curious to get to know this creative free spirit and to hear about his ambitions.
Who is Brandon Wen?
- 1993: born in Los Angeles
- 2015: graduated in Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell University in New York
- 2019: graduated at the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts
- 2019: started working for Michèle Lamy and Rick Owens in Paris
- 2020: started working at Maison Lemarié for Chanel Haute Couture and Prêt à Porter
- 2021: guest lecturer at the international Arts of Fashion Foundation in San Francisco
- 2022: creative director at the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts
- Brandon's website
- Brandon's Instagram account
Could you tell us a little about your background?
Well, before I came to Antwerp, I grew up in Los Angeles, in a very academic environment. My education, my upbringing, high school and then college: it was all very straightforward. But at the same time my family was super open and supportive. There were always a bit of artistic things happening, but not so in the hippie sense. For instance, my father is an architect but he does more hospitals. So since high school, I had always been a bit by myself, always exploring things. But then coming to Antwerp, it was as if the world opened up to me in terms of art and design.
Growing up were you already interested in fashion?
Yeah, it was very suburban homosexual, I liked Project Runway and Lady Gaga when I was in high school. It was nice because these things opened it up already for me. I got very interested in fashion and doing things that were a bit more, I guess, strange or new to me. I took a high school fashion course on the weekend, which was quite helpful because I also met different people. And the teacher was more of an illustrator, so he also had this broader art opinion.
Then, the summer before I was a senior in high school, I did a little summer class with Arts of Fashion in Paris. We came to Antwerp for a day and there was this exhibit in MoMu on the ground floor of one of the master students, Mariel Manuel. I remember thinking, what am I looking at? It was so beyond anything that I had perceived in high school, even in L.A. There and then the obsession began.
There was no Instagram, only Facebook. There were only a few things on the internet about it. I remember looking stuff up all the time and trying to find more information, and then realizing that fashion was what I wanted to be doing.
So you moved to New York to study fashion?
Yeah, I studied at Cornell University, so it wasn't New York City, it was upstate New York. Super academic, they're known for engineering, architecture, veterinary school and hospitality. The program I was in was more fiber science and apparel design. So the program had this fiber science component, a management component and a design component. It was great because it was quite open and you could do what you wanted to. It was a lot of research, much like chemistry as in looking through microscopes and weighing and burning things. But the design classes had my focus. There weren't many of us, but we were all interested in fashion design and didn’t want to do all the science and management. Even though it was interesting, and it would, of course, help. What was beautiful about Cornell was that it was this enormous campus of students in the middle of nowhere in New York, next to a town called Ithaca, a town smaller than the college. You were very free to do what you wanted to do and to be who you wanted to be. That was very formative.
And afterwards you entered the Antwerp Fashion Academy?
Yeah, I was kind of following it the whole time. When I was in Cornell, I came here to Antwerp for a summer to intern with Romain Brau who had this shop Ra in the Kloosterstraat. It was really fun, a blast. I thought, this is something I need to keep an eye out for. So when I finished Cornell, I thought, now I'll get to work and I came to Paris for a month. I had a friend whom I was staying with and I was applying for jobs but people weren't really responding. Then a friend of mine said that maybe I should think about applying to schools, and she had a contact from someone in Paris. It was the end of June so the entrance exam was in a week. But I had everything ready, I had my portfolio and possibly even my interview questions. And so I tried…
At first I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go back to study, but when I got accepted into the academy, I was overwhelmed. My friends were saying: if you got in you have to go, you can't turn that down. And my parents, again, were so supportive. Apparently it’s the best decision I ever made.
What do you value most in this fashion school?
What I value about this school, and always have, is the focus on creativity. I think that other schools are always searching for creativity, but are also always undervaluing it. So the fact that this is a place where the focus is on forward thinking and innovative design is so valuable. It's something that I appreciated and benefited so much from. I'm so excited to be able to guide that now, to be a part of how that manifests itself in the future for a designer and young people.