Meet Brandon Wen, the new creative director of the Fashion Department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp

Last June the world-renowned Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts said goodbye to its legendary head of fashion, 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 caught up with Brandon Wen just two weeks after the news was announced, curious to meet this creative free spirit and hear about his aspirations.

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Who is Brandon Wen?

  • 1993: born in Los Angeles
  • 2015: Graduated in Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell University, New York
  • 2019: graduated from the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp
  • 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 speaker at the Arts of Fashion International Foundation in San Francisco
  • 2022: creative director at the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp
  • 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 simple. But at the same time my family was extremely open and supportive. There was always some artsy stuff going on, but not so much in the hippie sense. For example, my father is an architect but he does more hospitals. So since high school, I’ve always been a bit of a loner, always exploring things. But I come to Antwerp, as if the world opened up to me in terms of art and design.

Were you already interested in fashion growing up?

Yeah, he was very gay in the suburbs, I liked Project Runway and Lady Gaga when I was in high school. It was nice because those things already opened it up for me. I was very interested in fashion and doing things that were a little more, I guess, weird or new to me. I took a high school fashion class on the weekend, which helped me a lot because I also met different people. And the teacher was more of an illustrator, so he also had that broader artistic view.

Then, the summer before I finished high school, I did a little summer course with Arts of Fashion in Paris. We came to Antwerp for a day and there was this exhibit at MoMu on the ground floor of one of the graduate students, Mariel Manuel. I remember thinking, what am I looking at? It was so beyond anything I had perceived in high school, even in LA. There and then the obsession began.

There was no Instagram, only Facebook. There was only a little online about it. I remember searching all the time and trying to find more information and then I realized that fashion was what I wanted to do.

So you moved to New York to study fashion?

Yes, I studied at Cornell University, so it wasn’t New York, it was New York State. Highly academic, they are known for their engineering, architecture, veterinary school and hospitality. The program I was most into was 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. It was a lot of research, like chemistry, like looking through microscopes and weighing and burning things. But the drawing classes were 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. Although it was interesting and, of course, it would help. What was beautiful about Cornell was that it was this huge college campus 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 be who you wanted to be. That was very formative.

And then you entered the Antwerp Fashion Academy?

Yeah, I watched it all the time. When I was at Cornell, I came here to Antwerp for a summer to intern with Romain Brau who owned this Ra store on the Kloosterstraat. It was really fun, a blast. I thought, this is something I have to watch out for. So when I graduated from Cornell, I thought, now I’m going to get a job, and I came to Paris for a month. I had a friend that I was staying with and I was applying for jobs, but people weren’t really responding. Then a friend told me that maybe I should think about applying to schools and she had a contact with someone in Paris. It was the end of June, so the entrance exams were in a week. But I had everything ready, I had my portfolio and probably 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 was accepted into the academy, I was overwhelmed. My friends used to say: if you get in you have to go, you can’t deny it. And my parents, again, were so supportive. It’s obviously the best decision I’ve ever made.

What do you value most about this fashion school?

What I appreciate about this school, and always have, is the focus on creativity. I think other schools always look for creativity, but also always underestimate 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 I appreciated and benefited from so much. I’m so excited to be able to guide it now, to be a part of how it manifests in the future for a designer and young people.

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