Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Antwerp, one of my favorite cities in Europe, for the N-th time. What keeps pulling me back, besides professional obligations, to this city that in Europe has an unjust reputation of a place that’s not worth visiting? Fashion, obviously, as well as a mix of medieval and contemporary architecture, with some Art Nouveau buildings thrown in for good measure, in a city that can be traversed in one long walk. And also a sense of the quiet and the unpretentious mixed with the cosmopolitan.
A lot in Antwerp has changed since I wrote my last guide several years ago. Some designers had gone out of business, and their shops closed. New stores have opened. Since you are a StyleZeitgeist reader, I know you know where the Ann Demeulemeester boutique is, as well as Dries Van Noten, Louis, and Cocodrillo. So, here are a few newish and less trodden places.
This shop/gallery/restaurant occupies an entire townhouse in the center of Antwerp. The traditional building was reworked by Vincent Van Duysen, one of Belgian’s best architects (if you are into brutalism, softened by natural materials, you’ll be licking your chops). The boutique is into playful and light fashion like Marni, Kenzo, and Isabel Marant. If this isn’t your cup of tea, then head down to their fantastic restaurant (or sit outside). The herbs that chef Seppe Nobels uses come from the little garden on the rooftop and so does their honey. The two top floors are occupied by an art gallery and the owners’ living quarters. It’s a pretty damn good all-in-one deal.
Graanmarkt 13 http://www.graanmarkt13.be
On my last visit I went to the opening of this new boutique, run by an Ann Demeulemeester alum. The big, long white space in the heart of Antwerp’s antiques district that this shop occupies is home to an assortment of things and centers more on objects rather than clothes. It stocks the biggest collection of Margiela’s furnishings I have ever seen under one roof, Nico Uytterhaegen’s bags, a tightly edited book collection, and an Aesop counter, among ceramics, art, and other things.
Kloosterstraat 54 http://www.therecollection.com
When Walter Van Beirendonck’s iconic shop, Walter, closed because of a rent hike, a collective sigh of woe went through the fashion community of Antwerp and beyond. Never fear – Van Beirendonck and his longtime associate, and another of the Antwerp Six, Dirk Van Saene, bounced back, this time under Van Saene’s name. The second-floor space, above the shoe store Cocodrillo (which you should visit too), is quite different from the previous one – all wood and high ceilings. Against this old-world charm, Van Beriendonck’s almost juvenilely gleeful clothes stand out even more. Other labels include the hard to find Dirk Van Saene’s own collection, as well as that of the recently returned Veronique Branquinho.
Schuttershofstraat 9 http://www.waltervanbeirendonck.com
The aforementioned Walter space did not sit empty for long, rent hike and all. The big white, airy box was too good to pass up. The boutique called Seven Rooms is its new incarnation. It is organized around the idea of an apartment with, well, seven rooms. It carries tightly edited women’s collections of Comme des Garcons, J.W. Anderson, and Petar Petrov as well as some objects for your living room and the kitchen. If you cannot afford a Bouchra Jarrar coat, buy the Marvis toothpaste from their “bathroom.”
Sint-Antoniusstraat 12 http://www.sevenrooms.be
If you are into vintage shopping, and Antwerp is definitely the place to be for that, you probably have seen Labels Inc. in every shopping guide. But your other must stop should be Rosier 41, which has an equally fantastic selection. They are owned by the couple who co-founded Labels Inc.
Rosier 41 http://www.rosier41.be
EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY
Done shopping? Head over to Marnixplaats, a happening little plaza (you can’t miss it because of the Poseidon statute in its center). You can have a great seafood dinner at Fiske Bar (reserve ahead) and than grab a beer at Vitrin, an unassuming bar where Antwerp’s fashion and cultural elites hang out – except that Antwerp is so unpretentious that the word “elite” does not really apply here.
If you need breakfast or lunch, down the long block is Vitrin’s sister café Revista – free wifi, a nice selection of magazines, good coffee and super fresh croissants and sandwiches. If weather permits, sit outside, stare at the windows of the Ann Demeulemeester boutique across the street, and contemplate exchanging your savings for that special piece you’ve been coveting since her last show (forgive this stream of consciousness, but I know you’ll understand).