I just recently returned from a month-long European excursion where I stayed primarily in Paris, but was able to pepper my French adventure with trips to London, Monaco, Versailles and Antwerp. In my head, I had this hyperbolically romanticized idea of Paris, and Parisian fashion. Impeccable, seamless, avant-garde, exquisite – I was sure that my entire experience would be engulfed by a visual whirlwind of cultured perfection. On many levels, it was. Although I’m not sure than anything can ever live up to the imagined affairs of a young woman eager to shed stateside boundaries and embrace the life-changing experiences of other cultures.
The epitome of rich historicity, Paris was a dream. But when it came to blow-your-mind, guttural, unlike-anything-you’ve-seen-before fashion, Antwerp completely threw me for a sartorial loop and overwhelmed the competition. Housing the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which provides the world’s leading training in fashion, Antwerp is the Dutch home to some of the world’s most prolific designers and fashion culture. Putting themselves on the mark by graduating the legendary Antwerp Six in the early eighties: Dirk Bikkembergs, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, and Marina Yee, the saturation of inimitable talent which seeps into the oeuvre of Antwerpan culture sets the quaint, friendly town above and beyond many of fashion’s honored mainstays like Paris and Milan.
According to the Antwerp Fashion Walk, a detailed guide to Antwerpen fashion produced by the Flanders Fashion Institute, the city’s fashion culture is geographically divided into five distinct sections, each holding their own rich history and distinct personality. Although each district is rife with brilliant shopping, fabulous street style, and palpable chicness, here is a brief survey of each of the walk’s most notable and unique fashion-centric establishments.
Walk 1: ModeNatie
The ModeNatie houses some of the most important and commemorated fashion institutions in Antwerp, including the MOMu, the Fashion Museum Province of Antwerp, the Flanders Fashion Institute, and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts’ fashion department, which is part of Hogeschool Antwerpen (most commonly referred to as ‘the Academy’). The MOMu is a veritable fashion oasis, possessing over 25,000 garments, shoes, and additional fashion-centric items, and producing two exhibitions a year – including a previously installed Yohji Yamamoto retrospective (the Yohji Yamamoto Dream Shop, 2006) in which visitors were invited to actually wear the clothing displayed in the exhibit. In addition to these iconic educational monuments, the ModeNatie is also home to the flagship store of Antwerp’s very own Dries Van Noten.
Walk 2: The South
The South is is one of Antwerp’s trendiest locales, filled with chic restaurants and art galleries, as well as the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which features a bench designed by Ann Demeulemeester, herself, installed when the building was renovated. The South is also the walk in which Demeulemeester planted her flagship store, just a short walk from the ModeNatie. Marked by the stark, industrial architecture of buildings like the Hippodroom and the Justitiepaleis (Court of Justice), Antwerp’s modern art museum, the Muhka is also located in The South. The one-of-a-kind, avant-garde art presented in the Mukha syncs well with the many furniture designers and gallerists who call The South their home.
Walk 3: Historic Centre
The Historic Centre is home primarily to department stores and shopping districts, as well as the famed Cathedral of Our Lady. Notable primarily for its historic significance to Antwerp, the square, now called the Groenplaats (green place) originally existed as the cathedral’s cemetary. Comprised of buildings featuring richly detailed Dutch architecture, and a bevy of boutiques selling the wares of local Antwerpen designers – Ann Saelens, Festival – the Historic Centre is also buffered on one side by the harbor. Not only are the warehouses in the harbor area popular locales for various designer installations and events, including the Museum aan de Stroom (Museum on the River) which is in the planning stages, but a waterfront warehouse currently houses Dries Van Noten’s personal office.
Walk 4: Meir and Leien
Meir and Leien begin in the Groenplaats and constitutes Antwerp’s most commercial shopping area, boasting an expansive shopping district with emblazoned storefronts showcasing the names of international chains like: Zara, Hugo Boss, Diesel, Burberry, Viktor and Rolf, Zac Posen, Ralph Lauren and Alberta Ferretti, to name a few. Aesthetically speaking, Meir and LeienÂ are a far visual cry from areas like the ModeNatie and the Historic Center, which are rife with storied architecture. Rather, Meir and LeienÂ are highly contemporized, both the diamond center of Antwerp, as well as the home of luxury shopping in stores like Chanel, John Galliano, Gucci, Prada, Kenzo, Escada, Junya Watanabe, Yohji Yamamoto, and Comme des Garcons.
Walk 5: Wilde Zee (Wild Sea) and Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter)
Together, these two neighborhoods host some of the best of the best of Belgian fashion designers. In Wilde Zee you can find the sensational A.P.C., which stocks designers such as Isabelle Marant, Vanessa Bruno and Claudie Pierlot, next to stores like Bellerose, Chine Collection and Kipling, which are renowned for their selling of popular Belgian brands. Louis, who originally stocked the Antwerp Six, opened his store by selling Ann Demeulemeester and currently sells clothing by Margiela, Dirk Van Saene, Jurgi Persoons, Veronique Branquinho, Raf Simmons, Olivier Theyseks and A.F. Vandervorst. Entrenched within an unbelievable array of clothing by fashion’s top innovators, Wilde Zee and Quartier Latin are the tie that binds for any fashion lover, Dutch and beyond. This list merely hints at the multitude of incredible fashion experiences contained within Antwerp’s daintily progressive walls. My three days in this enchanting city gave me little time to explore its rich cultural history and deep reverence for fashion in the way I would have liked. But if I left with anything after my European travels, it was an eagerness to revisit Antwerp so that I may dive deep into the many attractions, boutiques, museums, and opportunities for one-of-a-kind shopping the city possesses. Paris is great, but for all you traveling fashionistas, I urge you to indulge your sartorial whims in all that Antwerp has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.
1. Image from the Masters of Black Exhibit Currently at the Momu, anothermag.com
2. Inside the Ann Demeulemeester Flagship Store, anndemeulemeester.be
3. The Dries Van Noten Flagship Store, flickr.com
4. Looks by Designer Toon Geboers, Shown at this Year’s Royal Academy Fashion Show, antwerp-fashion.be
5. The Antwerp Six: Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, antwerpfashion.blogspot.com
— Amanda Aldinger
Image Layout: Laura Funk