What do German artist Joseph Beuys, the Red Cross, religion, horses and horse-riding accoutrements, rivets, lingerie, uniforms and fetish shoes have in common? Well, while at first glance they seem rather unlikely bedfellows, to put it mildly, they have in fact all served as inspiration behind A.F. Vandevorst’s avant-garde designs since the company first launched over 20 years ago. And while I’ve been a fan of its subversive aesthetic for some time, reflecting on this through the lens of fashion psychology has helped explain exactly why the particular style this independent label offers drew me to the brand.
Founded by husband and wife team Filip Arickx and An Vandevorst, A.F. Vandevorst is based in the duo’s home town of Antwerp. And while collections are shown in fashion’s main capitals, including several guest appearances on the haute couture schedule in Paris, the brand has always managed to retain a certain distance from the industry spectacle, and crucially for me, its outsider status.
Directional fashion that doesn’t speak to the mainstream tends to dominate my wardrobe, and while on paper the brands including A.F. Vandevorst that I favor (Aganovich, Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens) would appear to mark me out as an anti-establishment figure with a clear rebellious streak (hello religion, rivets and fetish shoes), this outward appearance belies the much tamer inner truth.
A sheltered upbringing and a conservative home life - I certainly wasn’t the cool girl at school – are traits that don’t appear to align with my now-preferred style of dressing. But despite popular opinion, it’s often individuals like me, with a similar life history, that are drawn to so-called subversive brands, and I can identify with fashion psychology’s reasoning that by adopting this type of uniform I could subconsciously be trying to correct some sort of internal imbalance. However, perhaps more importantly for me personally, is that how I dress now has enabled me to transform my perceived status as an outsider from something I previously regarded as negative to something I now relish.
But this isn’t the whole sartorial story. The clothes that we feel most comfortable in are those that tap into our truest qualities, and this goes a long way to explain why I also dress almost exclusively in black, steer well clear of prints, and love a tailored jacket. Dark, solid colours serve to provide essential emotional protection – I feel ready to face the world dressed head to toe in a sombre ensemble with a splash of leather – and as a stickler for organization and structure, I have avoided the fashion industry’s obsession with oversize like the plague and stuck firmly to my preferred fitted, well-cut clothing.
I was delighted to meet An and Filip on one of my pilgrimages to Antwerp earlier this month. My boyfriend and I were invited to an evening event the pair were hosting at their flagship store to celebrate the brand’s AW2019 collection. Approaching the boutique in all my avant-garde finery I felt cool and confident, but rather than enjoying my usual outsider status alone, I was met by a crowd of similarly-clad outsiders. For once, surrounded by A.F. Vandevorst fans, this outsider felt like an insider, and I loved it.