Einstein once remarked that there’s no inspiration in an empty room, which is probably why the fifth floor of Antwerp’s Royal Academy smells of burnt leather. I still do.[London men's designer] Craig Green worked with you and you’ve been quoted as saying you taught him to voice himself. I try to view stuff from the students’ perspective as much as possible.A student is adding loafer details to his Adidas Superstar sneakers, while in the back of the museum-like white cube chamber, students are gazing at a Stockman tailor dummy. We had national recognition, but internationally that meant nothing. We had no forefathers who paved the way for our success. At other schools teachers seem more dominant, like Vivienne Westwood. With all due respect, because dominance isn’t easy to maintain, but that’s not how we do things here.Walt Disney, The Founder Of Disneyland Walt Disney was one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time as his presence is still felt even 50 years after his death.He took what were crude drawings and turned them into a brand that is now instantly recognizable worldwide.With ADHD, he was able to build an empire and make a product that people love and want.And as we all know, this is one of the most important things when it comes to creating long-lasting success.Yes, we did a tour through Japan, but it was a tour with a Belgian minister who went for business and took us ‘for fun.’ It wasn’t about a market or anything. What do you tell your students is the key to commercial success? You can be ambitious and want your work to be successful, but there is nothing to steer that. But working hard, getting a signature, and staying true to yourself is a good way to find people who will help you get somewhere. It was mainly due to our own ambition and our own exploration that we went to fashion weeks all over the world. Depictions of the phallus return often in your work. It’s always about making a difference, which sometimes can be shocking. Your last collection was a commentary on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Some designers choose money and backing, but then you can’t do ‘raw’ stuff anymore because it isn’t appreciated by your backers. These decisions give more possibilities but also way more limits. Creative consultancy isn’t something you easily get to do.
In the heart of the Belgian fashion capital, we covered a range of topics, from The Antwerp Six to finding his students' voice. It was something I really didn’t want to be doing at first. Now I have some authority, but then it was just about sitting down with someone your own age and critiquing them. Can you immediately see if a student has a worthwhile vision? I see students from their third year on, so by that time they’re pretty developed. That’s why we traveled, first to London, afterwards to Japan and America. Some years you see that the students stick together, but sometimes they split up into smaller groups. Those magazine covers he 'styled' were actually faked. If I see a student’s work is not there, I demand more effort, research and work.Einstein once remarked that there’s no inspiration in an empty room, which is probably why the fifth floor of the iconic Modenatie building smells of burnt leather.A student is adding loafer details to his Adidas Superstar sneakers.What did you do during the gap years between graduating in '82 and starting your label in '85? Sometimes Martin Margiela came too — we were seven. For example, Ann was good at presentations so Dries wanted to improve his. It was very friendly, we were always working together. They might cry in the process, but that’s nothing horrible. We never speak in terms of shocking, we speak about experimenting and changing boundaries. Those places are usually where they start out and learn a lot.You were perhaps the first Western designers to crossover into Asia. Your collections always seem to have a certain amount of provocation. It’s more a problem for those who are shocked than it is for me. I feel, and this is how I work with students, that over the years I changed a lot of boundaries — on gender, the link between male and female, etc. I later added STOP TERRORISING OUR WORLD, which was something I actually made for the winter 2006/2007 collection. Do you condemn fashion houses that have lost their urge to speak out? Students easily romanticize the idea of being taken up by a mega-conglomerate, don’t they? Some get motivated to start their own business, others will want to stay there.That's right, some of the greatest philosophers, athletes and entrepreneurs of all time suffer from this not-so-rare condition.