This post was most recently updated on December 17th, 2015
As Paris Men’s Fashion week is coming to a close, I began to look back at some of the places I’ve visited, and their fashion as well. One place that stood out to me above the rest was Antwerp, Belgium. I agree, it’s not the first destination that comes to mind when you think of fashion; cities such as New York, Paris, Milan, and London surely popped into your head instantly, with Antwerp nowhere to be found. But my experience in Antwerp showed me just how important fashion is there and how Antwerp is striving to be ranked among the aforementioned heavyweights of the industry. In the four days that Maddy and I spent in Antwerp this summer, we discovered the essence of the city as best we could, and we realized that fashion is at the center of it all.
We started at the Central Station where the train dropped us off. As we began to acquaint ourselves with everything, it became evident that the city had surely seen better days, but in its attempt to conserve its history, it’s also trying to change its image into a global metropolis. Its claim to fame is the fact that it is the third largest port in all of Europe, which surely helps its cause for world recognition, but this is not the municipality’s focus. At one point, to Northern Europe, Antwerp was what Amsterdam is today, but World Wars 1 and 2 derailed any hopes of thriving in that role, so instead Antwerp is attempting (and succeeding) to redefine itself as a modern up-and-coming center for fashion.
A key piece in bringing Antwerp’s fashion to relevance is that the city boasts one of the most respected and most important fashion academies in all of Europe and the world. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts has been producing fashion prodigies since its opening in 1663. Much of the world’s fashion influence today has some sort of connection to this institution. Maison Martin Margiela, the famous “Antwerp Six” (a group of avant garde designers), Raf Simons, Haider Ackermann, Dries van Noten, and Vincent van Gogh can all credit this school with helping start their careers. Antwerp has long been a place where the young and talented artists have come and learned early in their careers; with all this said, the city has not been given the credit it deserves as a global fashion hub.
Today the city might seem a little quiet when considering its size and its history, but I have a feeling that this is the way that its residents want it. It has a modern, boutique feel to it and this most likely lends itself to all the artists that the city holds. Recently, Antwerp has been booming with its urban and contemporary fashion; brands such as Essentiel, A Cut Above, Arternative, Vier, and Verso are a few of the many brands that are now globally recognized. In a world that is connected by social media and the Internet, Antwerp is finally beginning to receive some of the attention and recognition that it so rightfully deserves.
I believe that the ideal amount of time to spend in this city would be between three or four days, a long weekend would be perfect. It is a city that is relatively quiet when compared to others of its size, but this does not mean that there is a lack of activities or culture. Get away from the much bigger and more urban cities of the area for a little while and explore this historic setting. Go check out the Grote Markt, Saint Paul’s Church, tour the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, or simply walk through the city and take in everything that it has to offer. Strolling through the boutique shops and concept stores is also a must, at this point it is the most rapidly growing part of the city; some of the items and styles that are offered here cannot be found anywhere else. An aspect that Maddy and I had more trouble with was the food because of our lack of knowledge of what was offered. Regardless of our experience, restaurants such as Sombat Thai Cuisine, Eetkamer a l’Infintiste for Flemish dining, Caffe Mundi, and the Gelato Factory all have a great reputation within the area. Antwerp also boasts some of the best and newest nightlife, so you are sure to find either a bar or a club to have a great night at! But at the core of the city is its long and rich history through its folklore, written accounts, and antique monuments.
You are sure to enjoy a great time and some delicious food during your visit here. Antwerp is definitely more of a niche location at the moment, but I see change on the horizon into a worldly metropolis that will appeal to all in the near future! Whenever you’re in a more popular destination such as Brussels, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, or Cologne, I definitely advise you to seek out this hidden gem of a city. Its mystery and style will surely leave you impressed.