Twenty-seven was a special age for Wim Bruynooghe, the young Belgian fashion designer whose work is often a feast of exquisite cuts, master draping and fierce corseterie and involves a constant exploration of gender identity. It's when he was featured on Forbes' "30 under 30", a list of young entrepreneurs who were predicted to define the future of fashion and culture. It was also when he got hand-picked by esteemed investor and innovative mind Anne Chapelle, CEO of BVBA 32, the hugely successful company behind Ann Demeulemeester and Haider Ackerman and who recently coordinated the relaunch of Poiret, to be the first creative director of her new brand 'UCWHY'. Having already released a couple of WIM BRUYNOOGHE collections and even opening up a guerrilla flagship store in Antwerp, Wim and his husband and business partner Laur Dillen Storms, decided to freeze all upcoming production to focus on this new endeavour. Now, two years on and with the second UCWHY-collection drawn by Wim's hand in stores, original WB-fans needn't worry as a timeless selection of WIM BRUYNOOGHE womenswear as well as his menswear debut called 'JET BOY' are up on the WIM BRUYNOOGHE-website and made-to-order.
I sat down with Wim and Laur for a conversation weaving through the story of Wim's life, his years studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp Fashion Department, his and Laur's special bond and their collaborations.
KNOTORYUS: A little while ago, you did a UCWHY collection launch at STIJL Brussels with Els Pynoo and Danny Mommens of Vive La Fête performing. Those two are always an event.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Absolutely. Sonja Noël, the owner of STIJL, had bought the collection for the first time. When the 'It's My OWN' expo opened at MAD, she noted that there’d be a crowd out that evening and -she's on MAD's board of directors- she wanted to increase the numbers even more by hosting a UCWHY-event at STIJL. Els Pynoo had just been in touch with us a week prior to discuss promo concepts for Vive La Fête's new album 'Destination Amour'.
KNOTORYUS: Do you know each other well?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: We’re friends, yes. She and Danny are very spontaneous. We asked Els to perform at the store event. Sonja let us have free rein. Danny asked if it was okay if they'd strictly play their new songs. "Of course!", we said and Els replied: “I’ll wear UCWHY then. Does Danny need an outfit?” Now, we all know there's no need to dress Danny.
KNOTORYUS: He'll show up wearing an epic leather jacket.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: That night he wore a blazer by Saint Laurent.
KNOTORYUS: Ok, Danny.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: When I’m collaborating with an artist, I don’t tell them what to wear, because it will end up looking like a costume. Els went through the collection, paired her classic leotard look with a navy jacket, a fringe belt. Despite the last-minute timing, STIJL was filled to capacity.
KNOTORYUS: Can we go back to the early days of Wim Bruynooghe, the person? I know you grew up in De Haan, but what were you like at the age of thirteen?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I was a very unhappy boy attending a dingy secondary school in Blankenberge. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: That’s about the age when you start realising what you really want, especially when you’re somewhere you don’t want to be.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I was always drawing. My parents signed me up for all kinds of activities and sports but that was never my thing. I wasn’t interested in any macho behaviour. I wanted to keep drawing and my dad encouraged it. When I talked about wanting to go to an art academy, the typical reaction ensued: “Why don’t you try a general course first for three years? Maybe accounting?” I did, but had to have some surgeries and missed school for about a year. I got a failing grade and enrolled at the Van Eyck Academy in Bruges for three years of art secondary school. It’s the same school Bruno Pieters attended. That’s where I flourished. Painting, ceramics, art history – I was taught by a really cool teacher, William Sweetlove. He’s part of an Italian collective, “Cracking Art.” They make fossils out of polyurethane. I came alive hearing my teacher’s stories of learning from Joseph Beuys, living the dangerous life in The Factory in the 80s. It shapes who you are. I still keep in touch with my teachers from those days. That school had a vibe similar to the Antwerp Fashion Department: a fun and nourishing type of energy. I learned the basics: graphics, ceramics, photography and developing images in a dark room.
KNOTORYUS: How did you discover you had a knack for fashion?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I was painting a character and wanted to make her some outfits too, but not from a fashion point of view. I wanted to bring my character to life and make a wardrobe to represent the character or life of this person, without realising that I was designing clothing. A few people ended up telling me to try out for the Antwerp Fashion Academy. Becoming a designer had never crossed my mind before. Even today: I create a collection of pieces and silhouettes but I still need Laur around because Laur looks at it from a fashion point of view, styling-wise. That, and I also just like having him around.
KNOTORYUS: When did you two meet?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: He was a fitting model for me at the Academy in second year.
KNOTORYUS: The same happened to Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene. Seems to be an effective seduction technique! (laughs)
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Laur couldn’t stand me at first! (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: Wait, we'll get to that later.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Ok, so, I went to the entrance exams, got to the school and thought: “What am I doing here?” I was surrounded by people with a fashion background, who looked like proud peacocks, wearing clothes from stores I had never even gone into. My wardrobe was all vintage because my money still exclusively went to cigarettes. (laughs) Everyone had portfolios and Alexander McQueen internship experience. I was out there, holding a big green binder with weird tableaus and sketches. My entrance exam was judged by Yvonne Dekock and Chris Fransen, a good combination, actually. I’ve always gotten along with Chris. So, I got accepted but I needed to have more surgeries done and couldn’t finish the first year. I started over the following year.
KNOTORYUS: And in your second year, you met Laur?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I had made a menswear collection then and I thought Laur was very handsome, but he was modelling for Pierre Renaux, a fellow student of mine and he was ignoring me. I probably wasn't cool enough. (laughs)
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: You were cool.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: A one-man army, that’s what I was.
KNOTORYUS: Your graduation class of 2013 was full of real characters, right?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I was part of two class groups. I passed my second year while learning a lot from Katarina Van den Bossche. Pragmatism, that you don't always have to do crazy stuff and it's good to filter ideas and find an essence. I always thought Katarina was very clever. She supported and defended me during jury sessions. (turns to Laur) But when did we become an item?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Between the second and third year.
KNOTORYUS: Where were you attending school, Laur?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: I studied film at KASK, in Ghent.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I knew you from seeing you around, at the time you were the “princess of Fanklub”, the former party concept.
KNOTORYUS: You were a nightlife celebrity?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: A bit of a social butterfly. Or a moth. (laughs)
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: You were a DJ too.
KNOTORYUS: What was your DJ name?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: It was ‘Lo’, but that was a long time ago.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: During my third year, things went pretty well. That's the year you're in Walter’s class and can go all out. I designed a collection based on Little Edie of Grey Gardens but translated it to menswear. I designed these big heads and hats. Then I won the school’s IFF perfumery contest and the prize was a trip to New York. I stuck around, I was very interested in that and went to perfumery school at IFF. Ron Winnegrad, the perfumer who laid the groundwork for a lot of new fragrances at Hermès, taught me. He now teaches the top perfumers of the future.
KNOTORYUS: Antwerp Fashion Department's Class of 2017 alumnus Rushemy Botter won that prize a few years ago, I talked to him twice for the Academy’s magazine, but he hadn't taken the trip yet. What did you learn in New York?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: How to smell. It’s really tough, but the methods behind it are amazing. I asked whether there was a Bachelor’s or Master’s programme, they looked at me like I was crazy. You can count all the perfumers in the world on two hands, so to speak. It’s like a cadets’ academy, you learn how to dissect hundreds of scents. Students get paid as employees but sign a contract with IFF to work there for six years after graduation. A great concept, I think. I was able to develop my idea with two perfumers, Bruno Jovanovic – a French star perfumer who created a lot of scents for Jean Paul Gaultier – and also with the Japanese designer who did ‘Terre d’Hermès’.
KNOTORYUS: It’s mad how you get to work with those kinds of names, just because of the school's connections.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Sometimes you get these opportunities and you have to remember who you got to meet and you have to keep those relationships going, it’s like a garden that needs tending.
KNOTORYUS: I think this is great info for anyone reading: maintaining contacts, how do you personally go about that?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: There needs to be a genuine connection first. We’re all people and there are individuals you vibe with and those you don’t. It doesn’t hurt to get in touch now and then. Don’t just contact people when you need something.
KNOTORYUS: That’s the mistake most people make.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: People think they’re slick sometimes. It's just nice to know people in the same field and who inspire you. Who knows whether you’ll ever have a question for them?
KNOTORYUS: That’s a vibe I would get pretty early on, when I’d see or talk to you. I’m not versed in auras and stuff but I feel like there’s an ‘old soul’ energy to you. A kind of innate maturity that was probably there at a young age. When you talk about being open to learning about the commercial or pragmatic aspect of your passion. I remember not being ready to receive that, at say 21.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I didn’t always act on it at the time.
KNOTORYUS: But you were open to it.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Yes, of course. When you’re working in a team, there will always be people who know things better than you. It’s not fun being the person in the group who knows best of all. Listening to others a lot is a way to enrich yourself.
KNOTORYUS: What went down when you came back from New York?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Two things happened. I graduated with a womenswear collection, which to me felt like a ‘metier’ in and of itself. Look at the great couturiers, like Balenciaga. They create shapes, but underneath the shapes is a whalebone petticoat, that’s why it stays put. I wanted to do some sort of internship to learn womenswear. I asked my parents whether they were okay with supporting me financially for another year. But in the end, the Academy e-mailed me to say I couldn’t finish the Master’s degree because I didn’t have enough study credit, it was a new system. Something about SmartSchool. “We sent you all of those warnings”. I didn’t get any messages, because I didn't know where to look!
KNOTORYUS: Now there’s an app that sends you alerts.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I was so oblivious when it came to stuff like that. So, I was kind of forced to intern and I asked Anna Heylen if I could shadow her for half a year and she let me try out different things. I admired her work and I was allowed to archive her press and we looked at how we could use archive pieces again, do something with her famous dolls perhaps. She owned a store on the Sablon in Brussels and decided to host a runway show and let me design different silhouettes and fabric adaptations. Talk about getting in touch with a feminine energy. After that, I felt ready to take on my Master’s collection and to finish my theoretic courses. I realized that my ideas about womenswear or drawings would never have been as great had I just gone into that last year cold, without the break and subsequent internship.
KNOTORYUS: What was the final year like?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: In fourth year, they pretty much let you do your own thing. With Dirk Van Saene, there’s more of a distance. With my experience today, I could compare the rapport between Dirk and the students to the one I have with customers. They won’t tell you exactly what to do, you just get little remarks like: “Ah, yes. Grey. And Beige. Or greige?”
KNOTORYUS: Makes you think. (laughs)
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I liked the way he asked questions. We’re doing all of this artsy stuff but at a certain point you need to tell yourself that they’re just clothes. There are more important things in life. You’d get students explaining in elaborate detail what they’ve constructed and what the concept behind it was and Dirk would go: “So, it’s a sweater on a skirt?”
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: It’s all in good fun. (laughs) I liked that. But Dirk has impeccable taste. I would always be interested in his opinion. In my graduate collection, there’s a separate base layer hidden that is very minimalist and straightforward but sexy as well. I wanted to show a Deborah Turbeville kind of femininity. It’s not always colourful, or matchy-matchy. I added the polyurethane and looking back at it, the things I learned in secondary school are worked in there, things William Sweetlove taught me. I wanted to create something lasting like he did. Polyurethane is non-biodegradable, I would pour it out on plates and draw on it with Chinese ink, let it dry and add another layer. It’s a transparent material, so the drawing is in there forever. It can’t fade. That was a kind of metaphor; the collection was about the relationship between artist and muse. The entire collection was a question mark. It didn’t offer any answers. I just wanted to understand it myself. I always felt like the muse was subordinate to the artist, and the feminist in me disliked that. But eventually I learned that the artist-muse relationship could be more open, too. It was an investigation.
KNOTORYUS: Your Master collection was titled ‘Lena’, right?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: It has to do with Laur, who had a bit of an alter ego.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: When I’d go out as a teen, somewhat as a gimmick, I called myself Lena. At the time you’d have an alter ego and do your thing and it could be very far removed from who you are.
KNOTORYUS: Was it a form of drag?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Not really. Maybe it had elements of it, but it was more club kid-inspired. I don’t really like to label it. It was something I needed to do as a teenager and then got picked up by other people, who were doing creative stuff and liked seeing that. At the time my private life wasn't great.
KNOTORYUS: It was a sort of release?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: I think it was.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: There were a lot of people who saw Laur as a muse as well. I tried to understand that, it wasn’t jealousy or anything. Before I finished my collection, I was mainly preoccupied with the emancipation of the muse, almost. I involved different examples, like Salai and Da Vinci – the little boy who most likely posed for the Mona Lisa and the Mona Vanna – or Mathilde Willink and Carel Willink and so on. Dirk thought that was very interesting, because it’s very honest work. A lot of artists only show their work, but sometimes the research and the process are ten times as interesting. Not that I saw myself as some kind of artist, but it was about showing the research. I got a very high grade on my research. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: How was being the subject of this research for you, Laur?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Pretty intense, of course. I really wanted to see what his take on ‘Lena’ was going to be, since it was very personal to me even if it wasn’t completely focused on my teenage years and my struggle. When I look back, that year was very important for our relationship and continued collaboration. We really got to know each other and worked together very intensively. That made it easier for me to quit my studies, because I found my commitment, to Wim.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I couldn’t do it alone.
KNOTORYUS: I think it’s good to hear this story now and incorporate it into the narrative. Behind the scenes of a brand, a lot of work needs to get done, so knowing how the collaboration started out is great. Yours was a very strong graduate year, packed with personalities.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: In my third year, I was part of a class with Pierre Renaux and Wali Mohammed Barrech, the following year I was grouped with Lise Eerens. I only knew her superficially – I wasn’t much of a partygoer. And then you had Alexandra Helminger; who still works at Lanvin and was so talented technically – her smocking, just wow.
KNOTORYUS: And then you had Devon Halfnight Leflufy and Minju Kim.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: And Mattia Vanseveren, all of them lovely people.
KNOTORYUS: Your graduate collection got a lot of press.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I hadn’t expected that, it was not constructed to be a job application.
KNOTORYUS: I believe you and Laur made a film together too?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: That was for my jury panel, the year the Antwerp Six reunited. I didn’t have any room to present and I didn’t want to do it at the Academy. I was granted permission to have my presentation at the Axel Vervoordt Gallery, in the Vlaeykensgang.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Courtesy of Anne Kurris.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: You just have to ask, right?
KNOTORYUS: That’s really true, but still, wow.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I was able to welcome the Antwerp Six, Bea Åkerlund and Suzy Menkes there and they were pretty impressed, I think. (laughs) I wanted to screen a short film in that space, so Laur and I made one. It was pretty abstract. It was important to me to involve Laur, it still is.
KNOTORYUS: How far-reaching were your film ambitions, Laur?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: I really liked creating the short film because Wim was giving his take on my past and I was able to give my take on the collection in return. And again, just by asking, I was able to get Delfine Bafort involved. That had been my goal all along, to do a film with her. “Steve + Sky” is still my all-time favourite. So, that was it for me. (laughs) Reached my goal instantly, voilà. I still look at film differently than most people, but I don’t know whether I’ll return to filmmaking.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: His film school provided a very technical, masculine course. Laur’s tastes were not able to really flourish there. If we’d had the wherewithal and time, we would have happily packed up for Rome for him to attend film school there.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: I always wanted to be a storyteller, but didn’t really care about the technical stuff. The ‘Lena’ film, in the end, was pretty fucked up quality-wise. (laughs) I don’t mind, because it made my point.
KNOTORYUS: Wim, you mentioned earlier thinking about studying sculpting?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: There were fellow students who already had printed business cards, but I mostly rolled my eyes at that. I didn’t have that kind of ambition, sometimes you need to let things come at you organically, and if they don’t, something else comes up. I had entertained the thought of sculpting school but then I was asked to participate in a trade show with my graduate collection. I didn’t even know what it was.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: It was pretty bad.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: It was Tranoï, next to the Louvre.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: But in the crappy wing. (laughs) That was pretty funny.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Apparently I’ve got a Wikipedia page that says: “He showed his first collection at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs”. (laughs) Yes, on a rack next to the bathroom. But before I knew it, I was a working designer. There’s a cost to making a collection, you don’t really learn that at the Academy. Which I don’t fault them for, I hear it’s wrong that you don’t get business classes but I always say: “It’s an artistic course.” It’s a good thing if you make it out with a notion of who you are as a designer. The business side, you’ll learn for yourself. I can’t stand that kind of criticism levelled at the Antwerp Fashion Department.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: It’s not up to designers themselves to know the entire business side, there should be someone within the team doing that.
KNOTORYUS: Getting to know yourself and what you stand for as a designer is priceless and it's pretty difficult to do after school, when you face a lot of new pressures.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: That’s what Antwerp teaches you, they push you in such a way that you come up with things you never realized you had in you. They also don’t tell you to start your own label once you graduate. That’s another misconception. “So many graduates and hardly anything to show for it”. Some become junior designers at a brand, some become illustrators, some become make-up artists. You can become a journalist or a stylist. You can be a creative director for an ad agency because you’ve learned to develop a vision.
KNOTORYUS: In the final year, you’re asked to compose a team and do a photo shoot and contact the press.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: All of it quite ‘light’, however, but that's how you get to know people, how to collaborate and sometimes stick with those people. Kris De Smedt still does our photography. There are others who operate like this, stay true to their team whether things are up or down.
KNOTORYUS: Then 'WIM BRUYNOOGHE' the label was founded.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: We requested a VAT number and hit the ground running. What we’ve always done was keep Anne Chapelle in the loop. Without expectations.
KNOTORYUS: How did you meet?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I had won a Knack Weekend Award and that came with a runway show staging in Brussels.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: She was part of the jury.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: As well as Sonja Noël and Natan's Edouard Vermeulen.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: And Sonja was the one to introduce you, right?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Yes, she came to the trade show, as one of the first people. Sonja was complimenting the pieces: “Very professional, with washing instruction labels and everything!” (laughs) Anne mentioned that she had seen my graduate collection and that it had stuck with her. It reminded her of the sea. Of course, my inspiration lies in Ostend and the brute force of the North Sea. Eric Ubben was the dean of the Academy at the time and he asked me if I felt like teaching for a month in Shenzhen. I taught our classical way of grading and doing research over there. My stay coincided with the Business of Design Week in Hong Kong. Belgium was the guest country. With a week to spare, I figured I just needed to get on a boat to Hong Kong and make it over there. Anne was giving a lecture on her way of working and on her ‘stars’, her designers. I went up to Anne after her lecture and introduced myself. She said she knew who I was. “And why didn’t I know you were going to be here?” I wasn’t even allowed in, didn’t have accreditation but I snuck in. Anne told me to keep in touch so I kept working on collections and sent them over to Anne, hesitantly, just to get her thoughts on things. One day we invited her over for lunch and asked food stylist Erik from Burpzine to help out: “Are you down to make quiche and put weird stuff on the table?” He was. We had lunch, got acquainted and just continued on with our collection, we even hosted a dinner at MoMu. The next day we were flat broke, but sometimes you just do what needs to be done.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Like throwing a press event on your last dime.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Afterwards, Anne asked to come visit us at home. She had an idea and wanted to carefully start something up with me. It’s very simple to pick out an expensive piece of fabric but it’s hard to pick a good fabric that’s affordable and then go a long way with it. She thought we did a really good job with that. That Laur and I knew how to think things through, figure it out for ourselves. I was still working on my own collection but she told me to finish it and bring it to Paris, there was room left in their showroom. We had worked with certain stores abroad before who were buying a nice amount but the payments wouldn’t come in. We got an order via the Paris showroom but I didn’t trust it. We went into production but cancelled the order the day before shipping out of a gut feeling. It turned out all their other designer clients never got paid for their wares. I’m glad I trusted my instincts. No need to grow too quickly, especially in my share of the market. ‘WIM BRUYNOOGHE’ is not low-price, definitely not at the time.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: It wasn’t low-cost to produce.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: We’d even gone against Anne’s advice with that move. You need to listen to that little voice inside though. Some stores were impressed by our commitment to not put something out that we weren’t all in on, and asked us to keep them in the loop, understanding me wanting to take time to figure things out. Your story needs to make financial and commercial sense. If you’re not selling, you don’t exist.
KNOTORYUS: Or you work yourself into the ground. People will go: “Why is this designer taking so long to put out stuff?” I just think: “Have you any idea of the cost?”
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: It’s a fetish, as Anne calls it, the desire of some young labels to be at certain stores. That’s what’s fun about UCWHY, the target is a broader audience and a wider range of stores. You can make great stuff if you’re smart about the production costs and fabrics. Not an easy feat since everything has to be produced in Europe with European fabrics.
KNOTORYUS: Is that Anne’s vision?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: It’s vital for her to work with manufacturers who uphold certain values. If you produce in Asia, the lines are so blurry when it comes to child labour for instance. They can tell you anything. It’s easier to produce in Europe, some pieces are even made in Belgium. But staff is expensive, after a while you’re working just to pay people.
KNOTORYUS: You collaborated with Mark Colle on the SS18 presentation, he also did the flowers at our wedding. I’ve been a fan for a long time.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: His work is beautiful, right?
KNOTORYUS: It's beyond. I really liked working with him. Well, I asked him to please do his thing.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: That was important for me too. Visionaries like that should be left to do their bidding.
KNOTORYUS: That's exactly how I feel. How did you all meet?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I knew Mark from being a 'Baltimore'-customer and of course, I'm very aware of his skills. He’s so experienced at creating installations.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Other florists would never achieve the same thing.
KNOTORYUS: They try.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: He’s ambitious, nothing’s too much of an ask. There are people who always see the worst outcome, where nothing’s an option. I’m not like that. There’s always a way, everything’s possible.
KNOTORYUS: It ain’t over till it’s over. There can be rough moments, but always look for a solution, finish the project. What was UCWHY SS18 inspired by? There’s a 70s vibe to it.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Anne mainly wanted it to be young. I have my own aesthetics and I wanted to incorporate a ‘roaring 70s’ vibe. There’s a disco element, Studio 54 touch to it, the flowy draping but done in jersey fabric. That’s possible, it actually lends itself to that kind of manipulation.
KNOTORYUS: It helps that you’re amazing at draping.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I like doing it. When you’re working for a label that has its own style, you work with set values. For a new label, you have to go look for those values, and Anne gave me a couple of seasons to do that. She didn’t impose an aesthetic. With the limited means we had then, I think we turned out great pieces. There’s a leisure feel to it. I wanted to include smart patterns, play with the seams, and put most of the work in the cut so it has an effect. They need to be real pieces, not fall flat. I wanted to add a bit of glamour, in a ‘weird’ way. So we took some pictures with a model named Willy, he’s a fun face. When you want to work with glossy pieces, you run the risk of getting too ‘done up’ a result. We sourced fabrics that change with the light, jersey with a metallic sheen, pieces that were perfectly suited to be translated to woollen versions for winter.
KNOTORYUS: You were nominated for a Woolmark Prize at one point, right?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Yes, 2016 was a pretty big year overall.
KNOTORYUS: That’s right, you also made it onto 'Forbes 30 Under 30'!
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Quite unexpectedly, really.
KNOTORYUS: It would be a bit odd to expect that, no? Did Forbes reach out?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: The editor-in-chief did, yes. All of a sudden you’re listed next to names like Simone Rocha.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: And shining next to Adele.
KNOTORYUS: A few years have passed since then, do you think it lead to opportunities?
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: It was mostly a really nice recognition. There are things you’ve had to give up to get there. Plus, the financial press starts looking at you differently. A certain process needs to take place before you get to be successful, and apparently they thought our way of working was appropriate. It was like a thumbs up.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: It changes the perception people have of your brand, both the press and clients. They notice you. You venture from ‘nice little start-up’ to something more.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: We did a lot of things in a short time. There’s no need to go too quickly but it’s hard to get exposure when you’re going slow. We had the opportunity to open a store on the Frankrijklei in Antwerp, so we went for it. Internationally, when people are wondering what Wim Bruynooghe is and they see you’ve got a 110 square-metre flagship store, it makes a difference. You still need to be able to pull it off in the end.
KNOTORYUS: Are you ever overwhelmed? It seems like you haven’t been influenced by outside pressures too much.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: We’ve made wrong decisions before, but a misstep counts as a step too.
KNOTORYUS: Let that sentence sink in, everyone.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: But it’s true, it’s a bonus point, a notch on your belt! You should always have a bit of dreaming going on inside and when you’re really sure about it, you can say it out loud. By discussing something, it helps to accomplish it. You don’t need to conquer the world, because what is conquering the world, really? You get to the end of the circle pretty quickly. Finding your own way is important. If you’re hoping for something, cherish it; you need to hold on to that because that’s what you’re doing it for. What do you really want?
KNOTORYUS: I’ve been working with my partner for over ten years, is there anything you two don’t do together?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Nothing, really.
KNOTORYUS: Do you know how to switch off?
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: We know how to switch off from work, sit down and watch TV, pick back up where we left off, switch off again. I’m more on the business end of things; sometimes I stumble across an issue and take it up with Wim. I can vent and it works the other way around too. It’s easier to share a problem than not to.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: For us, it works. In June, we’ll be married for two years. But we’ve also been together for nine years. And we never run out of things to say.
KNOTORYUS: Pride & LGBTQI-rights are important to you. As KNOTORYUS, we also think it’s really important to publish super inclusive content. So we try to keep a balance with everything that’s strictly white-cis-male-hetero.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: LGBTQI-rights have always been important to us, not that it’s a way of campaigning. I can’t stand brands that work with trans models just to do a big song and dance about it, for instance.
KNOTORYUS: It means you don’t view that person as a human being.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: We worked with a girl named Amara on our ‘Queer Beauty’ series we asked her to work with us again afterwards. She’s just someone who we really connect with.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: And a gorgeous woman too, with something other than cookie cutter measurements. You work with people because of who they are. Not for their 100,000 followers. We got some flack for working with that theme, from department stores and such. It’s political, so it’s considered difficult.
KNOTORYUS: I think there’s no future for brands that are not inclusive. They will become irrelevant.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: To me, ‘Queer Beauty’ is an art project, I don’t want to sound pretentious, but…
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: …It’s something that’s close to our hearts. Maybe publishing a book would be a better medium than a commercial one, with clothing.
KNOTORYUS: It’s something to have conversations about. It’s one of your values, it should shine through in every part of what you do.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: We’d like to share our platform; we’ve got an easier connection to the press than some organisations.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: I think there are very few organisations that are combatting discrimination who have actually experienced it. I think it’s difficult to talk about it if you’ve never truly faced it.
KNOTORYUS: For sure!
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Unfortunately, there’s little unity between groups fighting for inclusion.
KNOTORYUS: It’s about unity, but not everyone battling the same oppression is the same, either. And the question remains: should you use pain as a starting point? Because every new generation has it a little easier than the previous one.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: It’s true that the emphasis has been on the negative a lot. Throughout the years, there have been artists who’ve worked with the frustration of the era. Those can be negative, but positive, too. Sometimes it’s nice to talk about beauty. That makes you appreciate it more as well.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: During Wim’s graduation year, I became friends with Corinne Van Tongerloo, one of the pioneers of the trans community in Belgium. She’s such a positive person, so appreciative of beauty.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: And very poetic.
KNOTORYUS: She must have a lot of wisdom to share.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: We were sitting in her tiny apartment and the phone rang. She picked up and mentioned it being the ‘son of Josephine’, who created a restaurant dedicated to 'his mother’. I figured it was some place in a little local village. Turned out he's one of Josephine Baker’s sons. Corinne comes from a different generation, stuff a wad of cash in a chignon and hop on a flight.
LAUR DILLEN STORMS: Her story is beautiful.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: These are the kinds of people you need to surround yourself with.
KNOTORYUS: I hope you can continue working on projects dear to you.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: Setbacks motivate us to go even harder. The message is too important. My grandfather always said: “Shut up and do the work.” When Anne came round for the first time, she asked how we were doing and I said: “Ora et labora”. Prayer and work. Not that we’re religious.
KNOTORYUS: It’s about staying focused and doing the work.
WIM BRUYNOOGHE: I enjoy creating, being happy and I love beautiful things.
KNOTORYUS: Thank you for being so open with me.