With avant-garde clothing, designer furniture and ground-breakingly original accessories, Antwerp displays its creative talents with the same ease as it accepts its privileged position on the international fashion scene. Dubbed by many 'the Paris of the North', the Flemish city has become a benchmark for those seeking to push the design envelope just that little bit further.
The textile tradition isn't new to Antwerp: way back in the fourteenth century, the river port city dominated the European wool trade, and numerous wholesale clothing workshops were to be found here right up until the twentieth century. Then, though, the textile industry entered a period of decline, and it wasn't until the late Eighties that a group of young designers, now known as the 'Antwerp Six', decided to reach back into their heritage and bring it right up to date.
In 1988, the Six took their collections to the London Fashion Fair, and since then the names of Dries van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk Van Saene, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter van Beirendonck and Marina Yee have been recognised as members of the exclusive club at the cutting edge of the fashion scene. Suddenly this little corner of Flanders became a place of pilgrimage for specialists and fashion buyers intent on getting hold of the latest that Europe had to offer in ground-breaking style and creativity.
The rise of the Six coincided with the birth of a School of Fashion at Antwerp's Academy of Fine Arts, and soon the ranks of local designers swelled to such a degree that fashion now permeates the city. Many young creators, following in the wake of their predecessors, have found a niche in the international fashion scene, and it is virtually impossible move get around the city without discovering the shop of some promising new talent.
The latest stars of the School of Fashion are already making their mark. Elise Gettliffe, Lena Lumelsky, Juan Hernandez Daels and Heaven Tanudiredja are clear that the unique individualism of this city is to be prized. And so they present their collections accordingly: complex, full of personality, and designed for those who love and appreciate something different.
The Antwerp Office of Tourism offers five trails to help you discover and enjoy the fashion of the city whatever your personal style preferences. And if you fancy a fuller picture of the background story, you shouldn't miss visiting the Mode Museum (MoMu), opened in 2002. A walk through the halls and galleries takes you on a journey in time that provides a full historical context to the creative know-how of a city whose fashion pedigree has long been established.
The vast range of fashion outlets in Antwerp is divided into three main types: the specialist boutiques of the big names, the smaller shops of up-coming young talent, and the conceptual, multi-function stores that push the envelope and ensure Antwerp a well-deserved place on the international design scene.
Creations by Lena Lumelsky - swimsuits inspired by black and white cinema, Elise Gettliffe - specialist in men's suits in luxury fabrics, and Heaven Tanudiredja - expert in Gothic and dreamscape jewellery.
Multi-function space for young creators and designers; the sophisticated, minimalist restaurant is a place to mingle and rub shoulders with Antwerp's brightest and best.
Your (88-100, Kloosterstraat)
A huge space where you'll find almost everything from the latest trends to jeans from a score of houses. Savour the cuttting edge in its purest form on the two floors brimming with eccentricity.
Surprising neo-rustic style, with ornate detailing, draping, pleats and embroidery.
Het Modepalais (16, Nationalsstraat)
This is the business centre of Dries Van Noten, one of the original Antwerp Six. A visit at sale time will make the prices rather more affordable.
The empress of Flemish fashion likes to walk among her clients offering opinions on her groundbreaking creations. Make sure you admire the furnishings... in Antwerp, the creativity never stops!
Galerie 70 (70, Minderbroedersrui)
Interior decor at its most elegant. If you can't afford the prices of these exclusive and exquisite items, just absorb the inspiration they provide.