Princess Delphine sees new role as Belgian design champion

Princess Delphine sees new role as Belgian design champion
Princess Delphine, sitting between her husband Jim O'Hare and Princess Claire during the military and civilian parade on the Belgian National Day on 21 July 2022. Credit: Belga/Bruno Fahy

Princess Delphine says she wants to use her platform as a newly recognised member of the royal family to champion young Belgian designers who express "extreme Belgitude."

Delphine, who wore a bespoke red outfit with inlaid bird images at Belgium’s National Day parade, told The Brussels Times that she wanted to share her moment in the public eye with emerging talents. "I like the idea of being able to help," she said. "I like the idea that I can put Belgian talents in the limelight because we have a lot of amazing fashion designers, shoemakers, hat makers, bag makers."

She also spoke of her pride in wearing a dress designed by Pol Vogels, a 25-year-old designer from the municipality of Heusden-Zolder in Limburg. "I was thrilled that such a young person could do this dress," she said. "I love this extreme Belgitude that he has. Because at the end of the day, the 21st of July is really about Belgium. And he has a very strong Belgian identity."

'There's always hope'

The symbols, she said, reflected the moment, as Belgium and Europe deal with the war in Ukraine and the post-pandemic recovery. "The overall mood in the world has been very, very hard," she said.

"This dress is something that people can smile at and think about how there's always hope. There are a lot of symbols that spoke to me, and one of the symbols was the dove. That represents for me hope and peace, which I thought was just, you know, a magnificent statement to have this year."

Delphine is an artist herself and has even produced a range of clothes, but she did not want to wear her own designs. "It’s not satisfying to me because I have this privilege," she said. "The idea of being able to help a very young person gave me a big kick."

Now 54, she recalled her struggles to be noticed after she graduated from art school. "I know how hard it is even if you've got the talent," she said.

Blending old and new

Vogels, who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Sint-Niklaas (SASK) in East-Flanders also collaborated with Josje Huisman for Delphine's hat, while her shoes were from luxury label Morobé, and her stylist was Jody Van Geert. Vogels said the pigeons on the dress were a tribute to his family tradition of keeping pigeons.

"Both of my grandfathers kept pigeons for races, and so did my dad," he said, adding that he tried to blend new and old ideas into his clothes. "My style is very young and eccentric and extravagant but also with a sense of respect for traditions. I like to be modern, but I also take a lot of inspiration from older clothing. Things like that inspire me."

After years of denials, Delphine was only formally recognised as a member of the royal family two years ago, when Belgium's former King Albert II accepted that he was her biological father.

She became publicly known in 1999 after a book revealed she was Albert’s lovechild from an 18-year extra-marital affair with Sybille de Selys Longchamps, who was then married to businessman Jacques Boël. Now formally known as Princess Delphine de Saxe-Cobourg, she has since reconciled with Albert, who abdicated in favour of his son King Philippe in 2013.

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