Clothes: Pain

When I designed this clothing line I was deeply moved by An and Eefje’s story. I felt attracted to it and at the same time I found it hyped in a sense. Maybe it was my way of coping with this terrible event, young girls who had been raped and killed by a pervert. I had a hard time with the coverage in the media. Laetitia, one of the surviving girls, was asked ‘Are you happy now?’ in front of the camera! Stupid question, in my opinion. It upset me, and I was quite assertive about it. That’s why I called VRT to put pressure on the news and also with the request for adapted news for children – that is approximately when Ketnet was introduced. I wanted to stick up for others.

The aesthetisation of pain can be seen in my collection, which is probably also due to the fact that I have suffered a lot myself, because I was bullied at school, among others, first as the son of the teacher and later due to my homosexuality.

The technique was quite easy: white clothes and red paint, it was a natural. It was fairly difficult nonetheless to have the clothes made. That is how I found the way to Schleiper. When I was staining those clothes, it was important to find a balance in terms of stains. I especially wanted to make the crotch red (photo 5), referring to bloody vaginas, an aspect that has nothing to do with menstruation or my aggression here. It is rather imagining their distress from my own pain, empathy. It also made me think of the painter Jackson Pollock, who launched this trend with his famous 'drippings'. Today it also makes me think of those jeans with white paint stains on them, which can be bought. I did not copy them, since I only saw them subsequently in the stores.

I have also worn pieces from my collection at the Aalst carnival. I had made a sign with the name ‘An’ and someone else carried a sign with ‘Eefje’ on it. When they played ‘I will survive’ at the disco, we danced to it. As far as I was concerned those girls continued to live on and I found it so sad that they were only remembered as victims. I also wanted them to live on in a positive way. People did not all react well to this and some were shocked. However, it wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone.

The deeply cut neckline I designed ten years ago has only become fashionable a few years ago. To me it was not a mere decorative feature, but a symbol for deep-seated pain. Subsequently I created a stylised collection, which is more commercial. To many the blood was too unpleasant and I therefore shifted the red to the collar, pockets and zips. The latter, also on the jacket, represented scars, as in a fight, referring to the suppression of the bad, to resistance, to the fact that we don’t just allow things to happen. In one garment one sleeve is longer than the other, as if that arm was stretched, while the collar conjures up the image of a slit throat.

Eventually I found the photos more important than the clothes, as a kind of statement. They were taken by Stijn Vanorbeek at the Anderlecht slaughterhouse.

The strong mediatisation of An and Eefje triggered the topic of pain but it had always been latent in the pain I inherited, as it were, from my grandmother and mother. In some way I also deal with their pain, and their pain is expressed in me. For my grandmother it had to do with the pain she experienced during the war and the fact that she was an orphan. Sexuality was also taboo to her. She did have two children, but nakedness, cuddling, intimacy were off-limits to her. For example, she had to sleep fully clothed. I also remember that when I got a bit older I was no longer allowed to snuggle up to her, since she found it too sexual. That is when I became resentful of her. At the end of her life she lived with us, and I still remember how she ranted when something intimate was shown on TV, a kiss or something physical. To her it was not acceptable and I had to switch to another programme. When she passed away, I did not feel overly sad since she had not accepted my love.

As far as my mother is concerned, I always thought that something terrible happened to her. In general I feel very involved with women in the family, for example with my aunts and female cousins. My relationship with most men in the family is not nearly as strong.