Willy Vanderperre

Willy Vanderperre's Take on Youth Voices, Isolation, and Pop Culture

Show Notes


Renowned photographer of the Antwerp Six, Willy Vanderperre is a Belgian-born image-maker best known for his campaigns for Prada, Dior, and Jil Sander, as well as publications like i-D, Another, or W. Longstanding creative collaborations with fashion icons like Raf Simons, Olivier Rizzo, and Peter Philips have informed his creative output over the decades and renewed his lasting interest in what youth cultures have to continually offer the older generations.

Vanderperre has made himself an industry staple over the past twenty-plus years through his illustrious photography, which includes his project Naked Heartland and a book series that cleverly connects analog publishing to the new forms of media consumption. But his experience doesn’t make him feel old. In fact, he continues to tap in—in his life and in the contemporary conversation—into the energy that youthful voices bring to fashion in a creative and lifelong practice that mirrors how he approaches long-term industry collaborations and pervades his images: with a sense of renewal, expression, and movement.

Episode Highlights
  • “A rather difficult place to be”: Growing up gay in Belgium to a hardworking family (and a father who was a butcher), Vanderperre felt the “smallness of the country” and says he was saved by art school and the sensitive people he came into contact with there.
  • Aspirational: Because of his upbringing, Vanderperre quickly found a drive to escape his origins.
  • An introverted country: Vanderperre sees Belgium’s history and small geography as drivers of the country’s production of artists and designers.
  • Looking differently at a garment: Vanderperre’s photographic work stands out among fashion images because of his preoccupation with and sensibility for capturing movement.
  • Normalcy: While a big-city feeling feeds a feeling of glamor, Vanderperre celebrates a sense of rootedness in his origins and having peers outside of the fashion realm, a situation of social solitude that he likens to COVID quarantining.
  • Contemporary publishing: Translating ephemeral social media into the “analog product” of a book, Vanderperre put his book together quickly, almost instantly, much like an Instagram post.
  • “The right thing to do”: His book on Instagram was driven by his love of youth culture—its accessibility, efficiency, and unpretentiousness.
  • Vanderperre’s obsessions with youth, isolation, and the redemptive power of pop culture can be summed up by how impressed he is by outspoken young people disconnected and connected by expressive forms like music and movies in the internet age.
  • Never growing up: Vanderperre is one of the first modern generations to see themselves as having a different aging and cultural trajectory from their parents, and more able to choose whether they wanted to become “adults.”
  • Contemporary politics: Youth have positively shaped the world, particularly in the past five years, but Vanderperre has partnered with the Trevor Project to support LGBTQ+ rights.
  • Long-term relationships: Close collaborations with Raf Simons, Olivier Rizzo, and Peter Philips have been challenging, presenting opportunities for growth.
  • Fluidity: While the industry has changed in the past 20 or 30 years, it doesn’t feel all that different to Vanderperre; he approaches it with new energy and different emotions and enjoys the influx of new voices.
  • What’s contemporary now: “This conversation.”  

Notable Quotes:

  • On growing up in Belgium: “It was a tough one, but also it, I think, rooted me into being very much doing what you needed to do to escape. So it made me adventurous, and it made me think about and dream about bigger things—just to make sure that you would not get trapped in that world that you were born into.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • On art school: “That’s really when you start to explore yourself. And I think that’s why my obsession now when I grow older is youth because for me it was such an important period.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “I try to understand the garment as well as the person wearing the garments and what it does to their body.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “For me, it’s nice that you go to work and you come back from work and then in that work, you can be hailed and praised and you come back, and it reduces everything back to normal again.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “Although we like to swipe and we like to click, it’s also nice to have something that you hold in your hand and you actually take time to look at. The first book had to be very accessible. It had to be something that was not so precious as your first art book.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • On youth: “We hate that period in our time, but it’s also the period that we look back to with the most beautiful of sentiments because it is something that is just to me still is something that is quite magical, what happens in your brain and only happens for that very short time of space.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “They [youth] always have a distinctive new narrative. They always have a very outspoken vision of what should be.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “You could stay like a teen forever if you wanted to because I think we are one of the first generations that actually decided we are not becoming adults or we’re not going to grow up.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “What feeds my obsession with youth is that I never felt like I was getting away from it.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “If we stay at least a little bit creative in your way of thinking, I think that’s maybe what we all try for, is that we keep interested. Maybe that’s the only thing that is what keeps you from going for a more, let’s say, pre-designed, way of growing old.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “The world we live in is gradually being reshaped and formed by the voice of a very young generation.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “If you have such a long-term relationship, it becomes different, more difficult each time you go into the studio or go into location or go into a conversation about what your next plan is. That’s the beauty of it. That’s also something that is really exciting: if you can’t put your commitment 100 percent to something, don’t do it and stay home. That’s the nice thing I think about a long-lasting relationship.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “The energy is changing, but it’s always that same you; the feeding ground is always the same. It’s a different emotion that you feed off or that you give.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “What I think is different now is that we are way more open.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “There’s a lot of photographers. There’s a lot of stylists. And they all get their voice. Whereas when I was starting out, for me, it was even a struggle to find your voice because it was a very closed circuit.” —Willy Vanderperre
  • “I think now it’s all very open. There’s a fluidity to it. You get voices, talents that you have never heard of, or maybe here and there and editorial. And then all of a sudden they land a big campaign. There’s a beauty to that. I embrace that full heartedly. And I think that’s also what keeps it alive.” —Willy Vanderperre
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