Tonight is the (digital) show of the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, including the 2021 graduates and that makes me think back to the show in 2001, then still held in beautiful Handelsbeurs in the center of Antwerp (tip: bring it back there please). The finale was done by 4th year student Serkan Sarier (meanwhile working as a contemporary artist, a thing that was written in the stars seeing his concepts and the limits of fashion) and he blew everybody away with his full on romantic vision of ballet girls ‘on pointe’ and his genius designs and draping.

‘Ballet Room’ by Antonio Paladino for Serkan Sarier, shot at Het kanaal in Wijnegem, owned by Axel and Boris Vervoordt

Not only did he show out of this world beauty on ballerinas and models, he also played Shostakovich at full volume. Cue thousands of visitors with tears in their eyes, filled with this vision of pure beauty. Including me.

But what happened next, was not me at all: at the bar afterwards, people started to excuse themselves for appearing so emotional over such clichés, claiming they had too much to drink, etc. I was livid: why not admit it when you’re touched by such a wonderful show?

Photo from the graduation show of Serkan Sarier in Antwerp (2001), shot by Etienne Tordoir/Catwalk Pictures

I went home and wrote the following manifest:

When was the last time your breath was taken away by some amazing sight or sound? When you felt gooseflesh creeping all the way up your arms and tears filling your eyes just because something was so unbelievably beautiful? And after that, what happened? Could you admit the feeling to yourself and -heaven forbid- to others as well? Without cracking jokes about getting old and sentimental? Good, because honest appreciation of all things beautiful is the way forward.

While researching this story I talked to a lot of people -fashion professionals and others- about the subject and all, with the exception of one- who understood beauty without ironing (!)- knew exactly what I was on about and agreed with me fully: its very relaxing to finally drop that cool front and admit you love seeing fine paintings, haute couture and ballet, you like to listen to classical music once in a while -harmonic melodies are easy on the ears after all- and even romantic sunsets, newborn puppies and other so -called clichés have a certain appeal. They’re not clichés for nothing, right?

Enjoying beauty is firstly a very physical experience, almost scarily so. Remember sitting on a football terrace with loads of enthusiastic fans, or being present at the singing of the national hymn -you, as a cool person, of course kept your lips firmly sealed- and you couldn’t help but feeling moved by the singing masses? Admit it and it feels even better. All that gooseflesh and those dilated pupils, rapid heartbeats and deep breathing must be good for something.

Before you all rush out now and become nationalistic hooligans (don’t believe the hype, you fools!), what I’d really like to plead for is a more private joy of beauty, one to be found in abundance in the arts, fashion and music. More and more so in fact. I mean, how far can you go with destruction? Decibels? Irony? Or the mother of all cowards, sarcasm? Let’s all just sit at home or in a ‘trendy’ bar dressed in our ironic trashed & customized outfits and complain, shall we? That’ll teach the world a thing or two. Except, I don’t think so.

With a little help from my friends
Of course there’s more to this renewed interest of -and appreciation for- beauty than just nice clothes, paintings and music: it’s a general feeling among people of wanting to help out each other as much as possible, of friendship, support and admiration for each other’s work and efforts. While big conglomerates thrive on competition and one-upmanship, young designers and other creatives like photographers, stylists, graphic designers and DJ’s form small groups that are forever changing and networking (read: partying) in an informal way, having fun, doing their own thing and getting noticed in the process. No pushiness, no hypes, no competition, no big dreams of ruling the world

OK, maybe secretly at night, when no-one’s looking), just wanting to create something that’s unique, honest, instinctive and -here it comes again- beautiful. In the eye of the beholder. Because together with this new appreciation of beauty also comes a new definition of what beauty really is. Symmetry, as science tried to teach us for decades? Humbug. Give us imperfection and gapped teeth any day. Gloss and perfection? Aaaaarrrrggghhhh! Who hasn’t seen a grainy black & white photo of a big town backstreet and thought: now that’s really beautiful? Without trying to be clever, just because you were touched by the image? Honesty, passion, creativity and humility -yeah, that old chestnut pops up again too- are what count and all I can hope is that this won’t be a passing trend like so many others before. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I surely am not the only one… Go on, admit it, you really like beauty that way. Feel better already?

This was the birth of creative platform of social change Beauty without Irony, which went on to organise projects and exhibitions such as Designers against AIDS, the IHAEC education center in Antwerp, Air/Port in Essaouira and Antwerp- and now Beauty for a Better World.

Because beauty is worth fighting and feeling for!