You've trawled the shops of the world-famous Fashion District, now venture out to the Latin Quarter and the South District, where style thrives with the same individual Belgian spirit as those that surround the MoMu (Nationalestraat 28, +32 (0)3 470 27 70, www.momu.be. Which, by the way, just unveiled an expansive Bernhard Wilhelm exhibit, which stays up until the end of January, 2008).
Like much of Europe, sales happen biannually in January and June, but another good time to plan a trip is in September. While much of Europe is buzzing about prêt-à-porter, the Belgian fashion community celebrates their way with Vitrine (or "Laundry Day", this year from 9/6-16), when young and established designers create installations for store windows, art galleries, town squares and even bakeries, accompanied by a healthy dose of parties. Check the Modenatie website mid-August for the schedule, but in the meantime, here are some choice spots for Belgian fashion, year-round.
•Louis, Lombardenstraat 2, +32 (0)2 232 98 72
A longstanding Antwerpen institution, Louis carried many of the big-league Belgians before anyone else, starting with Margiela and the Antwerp Six in the '80s. This launching pad stays local with Veronique Branquinho, Jurgi Persoons, Raf Simons, AF Vandevorst and Ann Demeulemeester, as well as pan-European labels including Lanvin and Rick Owens.
•Huis A. Boon, Lombardenvest 2-4, +32 (0)3 232 33 87
Established in 1884, this is the place for leather gloves in all colors, styles, and lengths from orange opera gloves to fingerless driving gloves in earth-toned pecony—an unlined wild pig leather that stays warm in winter and cool in the summer. This mother-and-daughter-owned shop is where Royal Academy students special order hand-wear to accompany their senior collection looks. Jean Paul Gaultier has also been known to stop by for silk- and cashmere-lined gloves. In all sizes, lengths and colors—you name it, and they'll pull it out of one of the hundreds of drawers, and with full fanfare, fit you for a pair.
•AVe Annick Vandecappelle, Lombardenstraat 18, +32 (0)3 227 44 01
Designer Annick Vandecappelle works with old fabrics—vintage cottons, laces and brocades—and hand-makes her designs with the in-store sewing machine. "Every week I make new things," says the soft-spoken Vandecappelle of her art-deco inspired looks incorporating metallics into high-waisted skirts and easy dainty tops. Her friend Marie Le Lorrain makes jewelry to accompany the clothes. Annick also stocks a formidable selection of Lea Stein's 1960s cat-face enamel pins.
•Achterland - Sandro Faber, Munstraat 8, +32 (0)3 288 07 10
"I want to make new kinds of clothes so I spend weeks thinking up news ways for clothes to work," says Royal Academy grad Sandro Faber. "I do a lot of trial and error so that I can make something new." He does so with complicatedly executed wraps, fasteners and tie-dying techniques, making his clothing adaptable to the wearer (and sometimes requiring instructions). In his out-of-the-way shop on a small street, Faber keeps people coming by throwing parties and showcasing artwork on his walls from children's book illustrator Charlotte Koppman.
• Anja Austa, Kloosterstraat 175, +32 (0)3 237 38 67
As one of the few clothing shops with Sunday opening hours, this driftwood and white shop is plunked down on a street famed for its many antiques stores, which also stay open all weekend long. Anja works out of her shop, making clothes with vagabond femininity. "I take inspiration from the last century's theater in big metropolitan cities," said the designer, who worked for Escada before going off on her own. "Like how the ballet and theater contrast with the metropolises they're in." When we stopped in, she was fresh from Paris, where she crashed the shows in a prêt-à-porter mobile—guerrilla fashion marketing at its finest. (Hint: Refuel with coffee and chocolate at the old world Dansing Tango at Kloosterstraat 161, a few doors down.)
•Jurka & Riska, Nationalestraat 87, no phone
A well-organized vintage spot with Ziggy Stardust-inspired sparkling sweaters, glittery leggings, '80s purses by Lagerfeld, and lots of Rykiel and Fendi. Mod lamps, roller-skates and bric-a-brac are icing on this kitsch cake. See also sister shops My Ohm, (Vrÿdagmarkt 14, no phone) and Naughty I ( Kammenstraat 65-67, +32 (0)3 213 35 90) for well-priced '70s Burberry trenches, big sunglasses, pointy suede stilettos, worn-in Converse sneakers, and slouchy boots—all with a gyspy vibe: Catch the wafts of incense and funky bossa nova emanating from the phonograph while you shop.
•Fritkot Max, Groenplaats 12, no phone
Yummy fries and quite possibly the world's only French fry mini-museum is in the middle of this bustling square.
•Lunch-Lounge Het Gebaar, Leopoldstraat 24, +32 (0)3 232 37 10
For a fancy sit-down lunch, check out this dainty little birdhouse plunked down in a lush garden that serves Belgian-French dishes.
•Boulevard Leopold, Belgielei 135, +32 (0)4 866 75 838; www.boulevard-leopold.be
Call for rates at this quirky 3-guestroom bed and breakfast in a 19th-century Jewish Quarter house.
Who says Italians are the authority on shoes? When you're ready to move beyond pointy pumps and go more directional in your footwear, check out these shops for the best Beneluxen shoes:
•Coccodrillo, Schuttershofstraat 9A-B, Bourla District, +32 (0)3 233 20 93
Opened in 1983, this shop specializes in the Belgians: AF Vandevorst, Dirk Bikkembergs, Veronique Branquinho, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Margiela, and Raf Simons.
•Elsa, Nationalestraat 147, +32 (0)3 226 84 54
Owned by former Dries Van Noten shoe designer Elsa Proost, she stocks shoes by Hussein Chalayan, Violetta & Vera Pepa, Nathalie Verlinden, and Ellen Verbeek.
•Georgette, Steenhouwersvest 14, +32 (0)3 289 96 39
This shop specializes in vegetarian versions of high-fashion shoes and bags.
Photography by Caroline Gaimari
A return visit to the Belgian fashion capital.