Written by Karina Zharmukhambetova
We’re back with another story and it’s a mighty one. We’re delighted to share our interview with powerhouse Dominique Nzeyimana. She is a seasoned fashion, music and culture journalist, an author, and podcast host. She grew up in Herentals—what we call the Belgische Kempen—where she used to teach dance classes as a teenager. Always having a profound love for dancing and music, she started as an intern at MTV London, whereafter she worked her way up to senior producer of MTV Belgium.
When becoming her own employer, Dominique’s path took a turn. Together with her husband Stefaan Pauwels, they decided to start KNOTORYUS. They’ve been running their own content and communication agency for almost 15 years now, where they provide advice on the strategic digital part. It’s quite a feat in Belgium to have your own creative business for such a long time, but Dominique and her small team—Immi Abraham and Stefaan—make it happen. Their clients vary from MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp, to UNIQLO, KBC and more. KNOTORYUS.com, their online content and news platform, became a fruitful cross-pollination of Dominique’s and Stefaan’s favorite fields, being music and fashion. And, as if that’s not enough, there’s ‘The Most’: the podcast where Dominique speaks to the greats in fashion, music, art and culture.
She also built a close relationship with Walter Van Beirendonck over time, and this did not happen through work initially. It happened through asking her favorite designer to design her wedding dress. On a side note: there were no Walter Van Beirendonck wedding dresses at that time, and there aren’t any others today either. Also, I can’t help but notice this charming framed picture behind Dominique, while doing this interview in the KNOTORYUS office in Brussels. It’s a picture of her and none other than Pharrell Williams. Like she said herself: “Why wouldn’t you frame it?”
Let there be no mistake, Dominique worked hard to get where she is, but that’s also the beauty of her story. Humble and a bit shy as she is, she emphasizes that you should never be afraid of asking your heroes—be it for your wedding or professional-wise. Her story is captivating to listen to because she talks you through all these amazing encounters, with these equally amazing people. The genuine conversations she had and is still having—whether it’s through KNOTORYUS.com or The Most—are truly energizing. They make you want to get at it too. That’s also how she ends her podcast every time, by spreading the love and by inspiring you through these honest exchanges with her guests.
Dominique has worked with iconic graphic designer and co-founder of (N°) A Magazine Paul Boudens, who also designed the KNOTORYUS logo. She interviewed several members of the Antwerp Six such as Dirk Van Saene, Dries Van Noten and Walter himself. She is a contributor to the MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp website and to Nick Knight’s home of fashion film ‘SHOWstudio’. Moreover, Dominique co-wrote the cult fashion book “THE SONG FASHION ARCHIVES: I'll Wear It Until I'm Dead” with Myung-il Song, the owner of the critically acclaimed Song store in Vienna.
There are many things to tell about Dominique Nzeyimana but go ahead and discover it for yourself down below. It’s been an incredible pleasure to sit with her and have her share her story as she did. Hereby: a big thank you to you, Dominique.
Let’s start at the very beginning. What were the things you were drawn to as a kid?
As long as I can remember, I’ve always been obsessed with music and fashion. Those have always been the big things for me. I think I was around 11, when MTV started or when I first saw it on TV at least. I knew from that moment: “I need to work here.” It’s not that I consciously worked towards that because it seemed so far away at the time. I didn't know anyone working there, but faith, the universe and my interests all worked out together. So, I got to do my internship in London at MTV.
Later I started to work for MTV Networks here in Belgium. I remember being on a musical mission, because I wanted to help decide what videos would be aired. And when I started in Belgium, I was immediately put on the music programming team and I just loved doing that. It was hard work and super intense, but it was so much fun. Then after a couple of years, I became senior producer. So I went from intern to senior producer.
Before that—during my teenage years—I was completely obsessed with streetwear on one hand, that's the earliest thing of course, and with Belgian fashion on the other hand. When Walter came onto the scene, I was immediately completely enthralled. It's like my brain blew wide open. Just seeing him, the way that he moved, the way that he worked. He was so fearless, creative and completely himself. Even more because I grew up in a super Catholic, small town. I went to a Catholic school too, so everything was very rigid and very: “You have to act like this, you have to act like that.” At the same time, I must say that this small town was very fashionable. We had really good independent stores, which unfortunately don't exist anymore today.
Dominique and her brother David
In 2007 you started your creative content and communication agency KNOTORYUS, together with your husband. Did it grow organically to what it is today or was this all part of a bigger plan?
Well, when I worked at MTV, I got contacted by Elle Belgium and they wanted me to write for them. So, I started doing that, mostly on the weekends or my time off, but I felt more and more that I wanted to work independently. I had a great boss at MTV. We’re still friends to this day and I learned so much from him, but I I'm someone who needs her freedom. It comes down to being able to schedule my days, my work myself. So that's when my husband—who always worked as a freelancer before—said: “Let’s start a company together.” He already had a background as a journalist in fashion and music. So, we added a production level to his skills, with what I was doing and MTV became our first client right away. From there on it all snowballed. When Lieve Van de Velde—who was number 2 at Elle Magazine at the time —became Editor in Chief at De Standaard Magazine, she wanted me to write for DSM. A bit later, I did that for De Morgen Magazine too.
Then I heard Elaine Welteroth—the Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue and the second Black Editor in Chief—saying: “I think having one specific job for years and years is not of this day and age anymore. You need to know how to pivot.” And I understood, when I heard this, that it has always been like this for me. I can’t focus on just one thing. With that I mean that my world consists of so many passions, so many interests and so many loves, that I hate it when you get the feeling that you should be doing one thing only. It's not interesting to me.
So yes, it grew very organically and it keeps doing so. It’s also because we’re very complementary at KNOTORYUS. I remember Stefaan saying when we started: “KNOTORYUS will be everything we want it to be.” That felt so great to me. It all flows naturally, going from a meeting with KBC to sitting down with the curators at MoMu, it’s all part of our worlds. We’re ourselves in those meetings and we’re still absorbing everything from those moments.
Eight years ago, we became the first social media company for Coca-Cola Belgium—we did that for a couple of years—but we were aware of sustainability and everything that comes with it. We always try to think with our clients about our place in the world and what it is that you want to leave behind. That’s also why we’ve never worked for gambling companies for example, because we do consider which clients we want to work with. Coca-Cola was such a big account, that if we wanted to, we could’ve expanded the company. But we didn’t. We did start to work with some freelancers but worked from home for the first 2,5 years. When the time was ripe, we got an office in the center of Brussels and that’s how it gradually grew.
KNOTORYUS team (Dominique, Stefaan and Immi) by Alex Salinas
Since you are doing so much writing, did you actually study something in regard to that?
Well, I studied Translator/Interpreter, so I’ve always been involved with languages. But that was only because my mother really wanted us to get a university degree, it was really important to her. It's something that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself probably, and to be honest I think I lost a lot of years that I could’ve used otherwise—without disregarding my mom’s concern for us. I understand that she wanted us to have a legit proof for the job market.
I obviously don’t blame my mom for her worries, because you also have to understand that we were the only Black children in our town. And my mom knew that too. Her fear was that it would be hard for us to get a job at all. That's why she sent me to a typing class when I was in high school, this way I could become a secretary at the very least… But I'm extremely grateful for how she looked out for us. I think it must've been agonizing for her, to worry about us like that. And when I was 15, there was this dance studio in Herentals—my hometown—that wanted me to teach. I was a great dancer and I had been following dance classes from when I was eight. So, from that moment, I started to teach dance classes after my school hours.
What kind of dance classes did you teach?
It was hip-hop and funk—those kinds of classes didn’t exist yet back then. But I also did classical ballet, jazz dance and contemporary dance. Dancing was my whole world and that's also where the music comes in, obviously. There were different groups from different ages, and I remember half of my group being older than me. (laughs) But I’ve always tried to figure out how to get where I need to be.
Dirk Van Saene in conversation with Dominique Nzeyimana
From ‘Mirror Mirror’ Magazine
Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp Fashion Department – 2016
Concept ‘Mirror Mirror’: Walter Van Beirendonck
Text & Interview: Dominique Nzeyimana
Lay Out: Paul Boudens
As you said before, you were a true Walter Van Beirendonck fan from your teenage years on. I read/ heard you mentioning him as somebody that has been of a big influence on you. Aside from having interviewed him several times, you also worked together on various projects, such as writing for the Antwerp Fashion Department and he designed your wedding dress. That must have been magical. Could you tell us a bit more about your relationship with Walter and how you experienced all of this?
Oh, where to begin? It was magical indeed! It was everything I dreamt it would be. I have always loved and admired Walter. And not only because of his designs but also for the way that he moved into the world. How he still does. But back then he lost his name with the whole Mustang thing and he couldn’t design under Walter Van Beirendonck for two years. I was teaching those dance classes at that time, so I had good pocket money. I had several pieces of the Mustang collection, Wild & Lethal Trash, and I really followed his career. So when the situation with Mustang happened—when he had to fire his team and he couldn't design under his own name anymore—I was really captivated by that story.
But then the way that he got back up: he started AESTHETICTERRORISTS on the down-low—it was a different name but it was still Walter. The first showrooms that he did, nobody knew it was him, but of course you can’t hide that kind of talent and that kind of signature. So, I was in awe about the way that he just didn’t give up. That has always been something for me with Walter, he has always been this beacon of light for me, even though I didn’t know him at all.
Then Stefaan proposed to me. I've never been the girl that dreamt of a big wedding, so I hadn’t given wedding dresses much thought. But as soon as it happened, I knew I had to ask Walter. Who else are you going to ask? It's not even a question. (laughs) You have to know though, there were no Walter wedding dresses and I hadn’t spoken to him ever. I had been invited to the Zulupapuwa shows and that kind of stuff, but Walter didn’t know me, he had never heard of me.
I think it was mid-2014, when I sent out my mail concerning the wedding dress. I told him about my admiration for him and he immediately replied: "This is a very beautiful mail, but I’m really busy at the moment. Mail me back in April/May.” I told him by the way that we were getting married in August 2015. So, all my girlfriends went nuts. They were like: “What?! You're not going to have a dress!” (laughs) But I just didn’t care. I was not going to do a plan B.
So, come April/May I mailed Walter again. “I’m going to do this, no worries,” he said. I think my first fitting was beginning of July. I went to the appointment at Trois-Quarts, the studio of these two amazing product developers: Rosalinde Heerkens and Aurélie Callewaert. They are absolutely great and they make patterns for Raf, Demna, Walter, Dirk… Aurélie is a teacher at the Academy as well. As soon as I came in, I saw these two women, looking like fairy godmothers from Cinderella in their dust coats. That was the first time that I was going to meet Walter.
I remember coming in and the muslin of my dress was hanging on a mannequin already. The only thing I had said to Walter—because it was carte blanche—was that I wanted to marry in white and that I wanted it to be a long dress. A little while later I'm doing my first fitting and it's two of the Antwerp Six members—Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene—who are looking at me and adjusting the dress. Also, I love Dirk’s work. His taste level is mind-blowing and he’s so much fun. Back then, however, I don't think I said more than 10 sentences. (laughs) I would only answer their questions. Only afterwards when I saw the pictures, I was thinking: “Man, this was so crazy.”
Wedding dress by Walter Van Beirendonck for Dominique - 2015
Finally, they crowned me as the world's most easygoing bride and it was an absolutely beautiful dress. It was so me. On top of that Walter made an enlarged brooch, to put on my chest. He had laid out six or seven different fabrics and I got to choose the material myself—so I could personalize it. The dress had this big romantic skirt and secretly I had been wishing for a little T-shirt sleeve, which it had! I loved that.
We planned our civil wedding and a week later we would have our ceremony and big party. I wanted to keep Walter’s dress for the ceremony and party. So, the one for the city hall was by Alber Elbaz from his final collection for Lanvin, because I knew that when it comes to gowns this is where you want to be. I started researching and I found the perfect one for me. It had a little nod to the wedding dress that my mom was wearing when she got married, so that’s the story of the two different dresses. (laughs) Stefaan wore Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten for the civil wedding and Kris Van Assche for the ceremony.
The wedding party itself was at a fortress in Mortsel. The flowers were by Mark Colle, who did a wonderful job. Piet Parra, one of my favorite artists, lent us the mold of one of his sculptures, so we could make a Piet Parra sugar statue for our dessert table. And Vincent van de Waal, the creative director of Patta, drew our invitations. That's kind of how we gathered all our favorites for our wedding. Organizing a wedding is a big thing. But it's all about telling them why, because we wouldn’t have the same budget as some of their other private clients would for example. It was not peanuts either, but being honest, straight away, about the budget is important. That’s our story and I can only recommend doing it that way. The memories are the best because all these people joined us!
Flowers by Mark Colle
Drawing by Vincent van de Waal
Stefaan Pauwels and Dominique Nzeyimana at their wedding party by Dirk Alexander
Dominique and Stefaan at their civil wedding
by Daniil Lavrovski
So, at this stage, Walter only knew that I had a company and that I was doing something with fashion, but that’s it, I think. They were going to do the annual end-of-year magazine by the Antwerp Fashion Department, which was always in collaboration with Sanoma—a big media company. But the magazine would go independent for the first time. Then there’s David Flamée—who does PR at the Academy and MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp—with whom I always had a great contact and who would invite me to everything. I still remember standing in the back of the space at the graduation show of the Antwerp Fashion Academy years ago, and then… fast forward to 2018, I am part of the international jury. At that moment Walter asked David: “I need a writer, do you know anyone?” David replied: “We should ask Dominique.” Walter had no idea. He went: “Dominique? Does she do that?” (laughs)
They contacted me afterwards and I went to that first meeting where Paul Boudens was as well. I found out how Walter envisions everything in his head. Always, for every project, he knows 360-degrees what it's going to be like. He talks to you about his thinking process and says: “This is your task.” It was so much and we had so little time, so it was all hands on deck at the office. But my team said: “We’ve got your back, we’ll help you with everything.”
Paul Boudens was not impressed at all at first. He later on told me he was thinking: “You made this girl's wedding dress and now she's going to give me all the text?” He did not understand what was happening. (laughs) Then the whole magazine came out and everybody was ecstatic. The magazine was sold out immediately. It's still some of my favorite work that we ever did and from then on I've been working with Walter regularly. When it comes to his collections, he talks me through the whole story, his research and his references. He tells me what he needs in a sense. Does he need a manifesto? Does he need show notes with the story? Last time he said: “I want to do a fanzine.” So that’s what we did for the SS22 collection.
It’s funny, because in the end he has poured so much into you, that you go home and you do exactly the same thing. I start by going through our library at home and I pick out whatever I’m thinking of. I talk to Stefaan about it—who picks out other things in his turn. Walter is the best for me, because I can imagine that for other people it could be overwhelming. But for me it's so much fun and such fulfilling work.
I also remember being in the international jury of the Academy—the year that Demna Gvasalia was there as well. I had never interviewed Walter before, which is of course crazy because that's my main job and I had never even asked. It came to the point that at a certain moment before, Walter looked at me and said: “Dominique, if you want to interview me, you'll have to ask me.” That changed my mindset of course. (laughs)
That’s also why it feels right, I've never pushed for anything. I've always been buying Walter and I will continue to do so, even though I do get pieces now from time to time. And whenever I have to go into Walter’s mind, I immediately hear how he wants to say it, including the exact tone of his voice in my head. It helps me to assess if the words that I use are right, because there are words that Walter would never use.
WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK FUTURE PROOF SS 2022
NEON SHADOW Fanzine sent out as invitation
Concept: Walter Van Beirendonck
Graphic Design: Paul Boudens
Text: Dominique Nzeyimana
Iconic graphic designer & co-founder of (N°) A Magazine Paul Boudens designed the logo of KNOTORYUS and it turned out to be great. How did this go?
You know, the thing is, we like to ask our heroes or the people that we think are the best in what they do. We really believe in hiring them, paying them, asking them to do something for you. Also, if you have to spend the money anyway, why not go for option A straight away.
So, concerning the logo we had two people in mind. One of them was Raymond Pettibon—an amazing artist—famous for doing the Black Flag logo. And then there was Paul Boudens. I remember we were overhauling our website—which was before our 10th anniversary—and we were thinking about a new logo. Christina Hardy, who’s been Jefferson Hack's associate for years and years in their company together, was our consultant for the website and she said: “I love Raymond Pettibon, but you have to go for Paul. You guys are so entrenched with the Belgian scene and Belgian fashion. It would not make sense to ask anyone else.”
Back then I had already been working with Paul on this amazing gem (shows the magazine), the Antwerp Fashion Department magazine of the Academy. I did the copywriting and 95% of the interviews with Dirk Van Saene, Axel Vervoordt, Linder Sterling and with all the master students—the latter will always be something I love so much. So that's how I met Paul for the first time. There is an interview on KNOTORYUS.com about how we’ve met, because it’s a really long story. (laughs) But I asked him to take on the role and he immediately replied that it would be an absolute honor. I also believe that when you ask your heroes, you have to give them carte blanche—just like I did with Walter and my wedding dress. Of course, we told Paul everything about KNOTORYUS.com, about our interests etc. And, that we wanted it to be black and white. But apart from that we wanted him to do his thing.
At first, he sent us more or less 20 different logos. I don't think that in the first batch we found the one that was right for us, so he immediately went back to his drawing board. Paul is very self-critical but I absolutely adore him, since then I've worked several times with him and we are extremely happy with our logo. I think I do it in everything, in the way I operate. Every time I collaborate, it's either young people who could use a push, or people who’ve been at it for a really long time and that I admire. It’s one or the other for me. The people don't even have to be young per se. It’s more when people are in the beginning stages of something and when I see something in there that I really like, that’s when I reach out.
© 2017 KNOTORYUS logo by Paul Boudens
What a story... Now let’s talk about your podcast The Most. It’s listened to in 70 (!) countries. How does that make you feel?
I don't think that you can really grasp what it means. That’s also why I want to visit those places. There are countries that we've been number one in—going from the fashion to the art podcast charts—and it really makes you realize: “Wow, that's amazing.”
Of course, there are fashion crowds everywhere. Take Nigeria for example, such an emerging fashion country. Guillaume Schmidt from Patta and I recently had an interesting conversation on this and about so much more, you can listen to it on The Most. So, we’ve been number one in Belgium, Nigeria, Ecuador, Belize, Austria and Colombia but also in the Netherlands and in the top 10 in the UK, Italy, France, Sweden. It’s really crazy to me because I'm in there with the big podcasts you know—Business of Fashion and Vogue amongst others—so it's a bit overwhelming at times.
But most of all it feels absolutely great. Especially because I enjoy every part of doing this podcast so much. And I know that SHOWstudio came to me through the podcast. When they reached out, I asked: “Who recommended me for this?” Because my mind instantly went to Walter or maybe David. I was baffled when they asked me because let’s be honest, if you're not a Nick Knight fan or if you haven't been at some point in your life, then: "Who are you?” (laughs) So I was honored. The person who recommended me—who turned out to be their fashion critic, M-C Hill—literally said: “I'm obsessed with your podcast.” So yeah, I love The Most!
The Most - episode 10: Inge Grognard
How long have you been doing it now?
Just for two years, actually. The fifth season started now from September and will be until Christmas, and after that it's mostly from February until summer. That’s the cycle, more or less. This way I get to take some time in between, because it’s a lot of work. It's so much fun but I'm actually also quite a shy person. I don't like to talk that much about myself, let alone in groups. I like to be on my own and to be with my family. But the podcast makes me come out of my shell and it’s also these one-on-one conversations that become intimate. You both have these headphones on and you're looking into each other's eyes and talking about interesting stuff.
It's never about gossip or anything like that for me. I don’t need to know your deepest secrets. But the conversations just go so deep because people start trusting you and feel that their stories are valid. I always respect people's boundaries too. It's not because you've been to my house and told me all these stories that I'm going to ask you for something else two weeks later. I’ll just leave it the way it is. And sometimes beautiful collaborations do happen. They don't have to, but when it feels right, it feels right. The other thing is that I just love the medium and that there are great podcasts out there. I love them. I have podcasts for almost every moment of the day.
That’s wonderful, I’ll come back to that later. Another great project of yours was the ‘I’ll wear it until I’m dead’ book. You co-authored it together with Myung-il Song and it’s considered a cult book in fashion literature. It gives an intimate look into the highly sought-after archives of Song—the independent fashion store in Vienna. On the other hand, it offers contributions from Dirk Van Saene, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten and more. How did the idea and the book itself come alive?
So, when I was already working with Walter, Dirk sent me a mail. He told me that they were having a meeting and asked me if I could come. He hates interviews himself, by the way, and he was the first one that I had to interview for the first Antwerp Fashion Department Magazine—Walter didn't even tell me that his husband hates interviews. Walter just said: “Dirk and Dominique, you two have to be in that classroom at the Academy, at that hour. We were like: “Okay.” But it turned out great and Dirk was really happy with it. Dirk and Walter were already friends with Myung-il Song—the owner of Song in Vienna. It's a dream shop, it's the best. But her shop was 19 and a half years old when I got that mail. I'm saying this because she wanted to release the book for the 20th anniversary of Song, which meant that she wanted to have the book in six months. That’s why she asked Dirk to help her with this. He then went on and assembled his favorite team and we really were these sort of fashion avengers. It was Paul Boudens for graphic design, I did the writing and the interviews, and Myung-il of course for her knowledge and impeccable taste. She wanted to do all these new pictures for her archive so she produced all of the shoots and did the styling too.
I kind of took the lead for the book under Myung-il’s guidance because Dirk was there the first meeting and he said: “Okay guys, you can start.” I took the leap as everything had to be imagined, from the title to the chapters, to what kind of interviews and so on. The first thing that happened was that Myung-il went: “Dominique, come to Vienna for a couple of days, you can stay at my house. We'll get to know each other.” Because I hadn't seen the store back then, I hadn't seen her archive. So, I went there, I got to know her and her environment. And if you love the store, oh my god, wait until you see her home. It's so beautiful. We also talked about this in the podcast with Paul Boudens, where we said to each other: “I've never met anyone with better taste.” Because taste is more than just clothing. She lives in this beautiful flat, but it’s every little thing in her home: from the cutlery, to the furniture, to the art. She has a Raymond Pettibon, I was sleeping in a bedroom with David Shrigleys and nothing of it is in a boastful way. It’s not: “Look at all my things." It's a lot of heart and a lot of passion, that’s also why I love Myung-il Song. She is such a fierce businesswoman, a fierce everything. She doesn’t want to be called a collector because collecting is like a dirty word for her.
So, we started making the book and she wanted to do something with Martin Margiela. You have to remember, the documentary was not out yet (Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, ed.note). But Martin is actually kind of the reason why Myung-il started the shop in the first place. To sell his clothing, and the designs of Dirk. I said: “Of course, I want to do something with Martin Margiela, but so does everybody.” (laughs) So I thought: “We'll have to make this work." All the designers that are featured in the book have these independent spirits, every one of them. They don't like to be in the spotlight, or they have a very private side to them. It was really difficult, and it wouldn’t seem hard to get these people, because we are super insiders and Song is an amazing store—but it's not as if it’s for an audience of millions and millions of people either.
So, the best thing about the book: getting mails from Martin Margiela himself. Signed by him saying: “I really like the way that you ask your questions. I like it that you give so many options, that makes it easy for me to choose.” I was sitting there in front of my laptop like: “WOW.” Again, the documentary wasn't out yet. So, he was even more this sort of mystery. You just couldn’t get to him. It was a little bit of a maze at the beginning, for sure.
‘I’LL WEAR IT UNTIL I’M DEAD – THE SONG ARCHIVES’
by Myung-il Song & Dominique Nzeyimana
Graphic design by Paul Boudens
Published by Lannoo
Then there’s Paul Harnden Shoemakers. He's a cult designer, he’s like David Sedaris and Brad Pitt’s favorite. He has this cult following and his clothes are super expensive. It's insane. But he doesn't do any interviews. You’ll find an interview from him online; I think from maybe 10/15 years ago. And guess what? Myung-il wanted an interview with him. So, we went to Brighton. Doing this book was really amazing. There were a lot of times where I thought: “How lucky am I?”
So, we went to Paul Harnden and the first thing he said to me—the same as Dirk did—was: “I hate interviews.” Then all of us just talked for two hours or so. We went to dinner and I didn’t interview him that night, but I knew: “I'm going to take parts of this.” I have the worst memory, but I can remember conversations, and especially if I have an interview in mind, almost verbatim. I took pieces of that and wrote it down. Afterwards, I sent it to him and I had left out a part. I'm not going to give any spoilers because people have to get the book. But something strange happened in the beginning, when we arrived at his place. I decided to leave that out of my piece because I thought: “This might portray him a bit in a bad way." Plus, he was already cautious about being out there, so I thought it was best to not put that in there. When I sent him the piece, he answered that he loved it. He said: “It’s amazing. You can print it as it is and I'll just add my piece.” Then he sent his part and he added exactly what happened in the beginning. I thought that was amazing. I also think that he understood that I wasn't trying to sell him out. As in, I'm not going to put this part in there because I don't want to go with the most sensational part. But then he just gave it to us as a gift, which is kind of awesome. So that was a lot of fun as well.
Aside from all that, there's having lunch with Dirk Van Saene and Myung-il. He’s like her favorite person and designer in the world. It’s these two hilarious, really honest human beings. Both also very opinionated, they like what they like and don't like what they don't like. (laughs) Then there’s me, sitting there, eating in this fancy restaurant in Antwerp. I do remember though that I didn’t really like the food. Dirk said back then: “You're not eating a lot.” I was like: “Yeah, I have to listen and I have to work.” A bit later, we were talking about having dinner in Brighton and I was telling about this amazing pork chop that I’d had. It came with this delicious baked apple sauce, and it was basically the best dinner of my life. Dirk looked at me, because we were sitting there with all these lavish plates and he chuckled: “You’re just like Walter.” (laughs) So funny. I didn’t even know that but it’s just this normal food, comfort food, it doesn't have to be more than that for me.
All in all, the book is really incredible, everybody should go get it. It's not cheap, it’s 69 euros. But it's this big, beautiful book. And I have to stress this: what Paul Boudens did with the book is wonderful. From the cover—which has this big cutout hole in it—to all the graphic design in there, it's really a collector's item. Dirk himself was in charge of one of the shoots, which became one of the best in the book. He photographed it—while Dirk is not a photographer—and the shoot is amazing. There’s another big shoot in it, recreated by Inge Grognard and Ronald Stoops, so you know what to do! There will be no reprints.
Shoot from 'I'll wear it until I'm dead'
Dries Van Noten AW 2013-2014 © Norma Kiskan
So many wonderful experiences, with so many interesting people. From all the people you have interviewed, had meaningful conversations with—and I know it’s a tough question—who would you say made a lasting impression on you and what made it so special?
I'm not lying when I say that every person that I've interviewed in the last 15 years, made such an impression on me. There are people in there who are maybe not that famous, but really every one of them. Also, I had the privilege of only interviewing people whose work that I admire. These are not discussions; these are all conversations. I'm not there to go with this preconceived notion.
There's admiration for the work, but it's mostly deep respect—and the fact that people open up to me. Because a lot of the times, especially with those first conversations, they don't know me. They don't know my intention—with The Most now they do. Because when I contact people for interviews, I always write down the intention of the interview so that they know what to expect.
You’re also a contributor for the website of MoMu - Fashion Museum Antwerp. MoMu has reopened with several exhibitions, on different locations throughout the city, after being closed for a 3-year renovation. What does MoMu mean to you and what are your thoughts on the reopening?
It’s a sanctuary for me, even from before I started working with them. In the sense that I could go there on moments when I felt bad—you know when you have these days—and come outside, feeling completely recharged. It's an absolute mood changer for me. We’ve got Kaat Debo as the director and head curator of course and MoMu is really unique in its own way to me. I don’t think that we’re saying this because we’re Belgian. Apart from being a MoMu contributor as a copywriter, we also worked together for the past couple of years when they were closed. It's just everything coming together so I’m super excited about this. There’s a MoMu café and now we have a MoMu shop too, which I’m happy about because I love museum shops!
On top of that there’s the citywide festival, there are so many open-air projects as well. Aside from the other exhibitions you also have the permanent collection with mainly Belgian designers. This one is going to be on display constantly. It will be changed every year but without having to close the whole museum. Before they had to close for a while, to be able to do this. It's so exciting and also amazing how Kaat kept fighting to get the funding. It also feels like 2001 in a way. When I visited Antwerp, that's when everything came together for me—with Mode 2001 Landed-Geland, the big fashion festival that Walter did back then—it feels like this type of energy is charging again. My deepest wish in the end is that a lot of young designers, photographers and other creatives can get into that maelstrom, so that they can establish themselves as well.
At the same time, I'm really curious to see what what's going to happen when Walter will retire next year. Only from the Academy of course, not from fashion. I'm kind of wondering because—and not to say that Walter is behind everything, not at all—but take the ‘Fashion Balls’ for example. Everyone immediately starts laughing when you say: “Fashion Balls”. I was laughing, but I also loved it instantaneously, it just fit. Then you see them and it's the best thing ever. It's so modern, so contemporary and so out there. Even futuristic because it looks as if this giant alien has laid some eggs in Antwerp.
So, I'm really hoping for another genius director for the Fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. For someone to center themself in Antwerp again, like Walter also does. He is from the Kempen—just like me—but his studio is in the center of Antwerp. It doesn't have to be the same energy. It can be different. It can be a totally different designer for all I care (coughs: “Raf”) (laughter)
'Fashion Ball' in Antwerp Central Station
Imagery via Momu
Apart from working with MoMu, what you are up to these days?
Modemuseum Hasselt contacted me a couple of months ago. They have their activewear exhibition at the moment, which is curated by Eve Demoen—the curator of Modemuseum Hasselt—and co-curated by Elodie Ouédraogo and Olivia Borlée. So, there's amazing things going on there. You have to go and see all the Bikkembergs, it’s until the end of the year. It's about the influence of sports on fashion, on ready-to-wear fashion, and I think there's a few haute couture pieces in there. But they acknowledged—and MoMu did too, I talked with Kaat about this in our podcast—that they lack streetwear. For the past couple of years, they are all starting to understand that they miss a streetwear part in their collections. Of course, that is because so-called high fashion has been looking down upon streetwear for the longest time, even though it has been the biggest thing in the world. Not to mention that it has the biggest influence on fashion right now.
Modemuseum Hasselt contacted me and they said: “We tried to do this ourselves, but we don't feel right about it. We would like to ask, if you want to help us with this?” So, I'm doing a small podcast series for them and I’ve also curated one big room for them. It's a concise kind of grounding of streetwear since the eighties until now. I did tell them right away that I can accept this job only if the majority of the looks and pieces that I highlight are by Black designers or designers of color. Because I'm not going to whitewash this.
I told them: “I only want to do this if I can make it over 50% Black” and they said: “Yes.” So that's exactly what I did. It was a lot of work in little time. (laughs) We’ve also had a live Q&A with Guillaume Schmidt from Patta and UNRUN founders Elodie Ouédraogo and Olivia Borlée. We discussed streetwear’s influence on the world of fashion, the role of Black-owned brands and further expert insights on fashion, streetwear and sports design.
It's now my second time curating. The first thing I curated was also in a really short time. There was a big Andy Warhol exhibition at the BAM in Mons, and they had asked me to do a small fashion exhibition. So, I had to curate looks that had to do something with pop art, and I told them: "Raf Simons just did these amazing designs for Dior with Andy Warhol drawings on there. We need to have them here.” They went: “Oh, cool. So, you know Raf?” Me: “No.” Then they said: “Oh, so you know someone at Dior?” Me again: “No.” (laughs) But I made it work. And a month later, there was a circle of Raf Simons for Dior at the museum. Beautiful, beautiful designs.
With this one, I’ve tried to make it happen as well. This is completely different. This is also something really close to my heart, but it’s also something a bit more divisive. I know that it’s not easy for people to see it and understand it. Because if you have Raf Simons looks, everyone in fashion is always stunned. If you see these looks, it's different. But I'm not doing this for luxury fashion. This is for the culture, so that's fine. It's something I’ve worked on every day and something I’m very excited about and proud of!
Dominique and the “STREETWEAR” exhibition that she curated for Modemuseum Hasselt
“STREETWEAR” exhibition at Modemuseum Hasselt © Daan Pauwels
DENIM TEARS (top middle) [°2019—PRESENT]
HYPEPEACE (‘Palestine’ padded jacket, hooded & pants) [°2016—PRESENT]
FUBU (left below) [°1992—PRESENT]
I also heard you mentioning your ‘Daily Stoic’ podcast routine. Any stoic life advice that struck you and that you feel like sharing as a final say?
The thing is: my youth was really chaotic. Even though my mom is an amazing woman and she taught me so much—she still does with her strength and perseverance. But it was a lot, and I've always kind of lived my life in a state of: “Go, go, go.” The past eight, nine years, however, I’ve started implementing rituals. I get up and I always try to do the same things, back-to-back. I get up before every everyone else at home, before my daughter and my husband. I always have crappy morning moods, that’s also why I say: “Go, go, go”—as in bracing myself for every day. So now I wake up, I drink my hot lemon water and then immediately after—don't think that I'm this health nut, because I'm not, at all—I have two cups of coffee. I take them with me while I get ready, and I listen to a podcast, which is always WTF by Marc Maron.
I listen to it for 10 minutes while I get ready, then I do some household chores—too boring. Also, I journal, which is very important. I meditate first and then I journal. It’s only 10 minutes, but it has changed my life. I've journaled since I was a kid all the way through puberty. Starting to do this again was amazing, because it doesn't have to be good writing. As a writer, you want to get the words, the exact words. But you just have to get at it. Writing down what I hate about the day—even though I don't like to be negative. What I'm wishing for, what I'm hoping for, I write that down too. And then I start my day. All these things I’ve learned from the Stoics. That you have to have these rituals, so that you don't get off-center easily. Because ‘off-centered’ can mean a lot of things. It can be sadness, it can be anger, it can be fear. But you react because of these emotions. Those are the most important things that I take from the Stoics.
Then at night there’s Massimo Pigliucci to listen to. Which is—I’m imagining it because I haven't Googled him yet—this really hot professor. Whenever he says something in that Italian accent I’m like: “Wow, this must be the hottest philosophy professor of Italy.” (laughs) He talks about the Stoics, about quotes from Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and whoever. Don't ask me any of those quotes, I don't even know, but they calm me down at the end of the day. So, after hot lemon water and too much coffee, I unwind with the Stoics and some professor from Italy. Immediately after I watch bad reality TV and I eat apple pie in my bubble bath, so luscious! (laughs) That’s kind of my life. To enjoy these good things has pushed me forward immensely.