by Chrissie Lam
With only a day in Antwerp, the style capital of Belgium, I was on a tight time budget to comprehensively shop the city for my job as a trend-forecaster. Luckily, Antwerp is relatively small and can be covered on foot. It seems a sin to spend a mere 24 hours in one of the coolest cities in Europe, but sometimes, the strictest limitations can yield resourcefulness at its best. From Gothic cathedrals to traditional Flemish architecture, Antwerp is brimming with an understated creative energy that travels down the cobblestone alleys to the dockland area bars littered with artsy students putting back Belgian beers. Just for Refinery29, here is my cheat-sheet of must-see independent shops, designers, and other stylish stops of note. Don't forget to get an early start. Shops generally open at 9 or 10 am and close at 5 or 6:30 pm (except on Sundays).
On the corner of Lombardstraat, the Louis boutique houses the best Belgian designers along with other European labels designers: Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Jurgi Persoons, Veronique Branquinho, AF Vandevorst, Rick Owens, and Balenciaga.
The Ann Demeulemeester store resides on Het Zud (the South) side of town. Known for her architectural working in pattern and cut, combined with a poetic sense of fabric and silhouette, she is one of the legendary Antwerp Six. Her complex aesthetic is reflected in the collection she has laid out in this spacious 2-story loft with stark white walls, large arched windows, and a glass-enclosed back garden.
For some great high-end vintage or second-hand designer clothing and accessories treasures, check out Francis and Labels Inc., just a 5-minute walk from each other. Both shops have unassuming storefronts, but you''ll find the local fare—Dries, Raf Simons, Margiela, Veronique Branquinho, and even Pucci—at very affordable prices. Episode carries inexpensive wares from the '50s to the '80s, including vintage ski jackets, Nordic sweaters, graphic tees, skirts, dresses, and children's clothing as well. Regular globetrotters will be happy to know they also have stores in Amsterdam, Brussels, London, and Rotterdam.
No trip to Antwerp is complete without a visit to Dries Van Noten—the apex of to-die-for independent fashion. No excuses, all designers should make a pilgrimage to his flagship, Het Modepaleis, housed in a sweeping 1831 building, which opened in Antwerp's old town in August 1989. It's home to the designer's exquisitely original, detailed mens, womens, and accessories collections all impeccably presented on three floors connected by a spiral wooden staircase encased around the curvatures of his regal fashion palace.
Reward yourself for the speedy day of Antwerp shopping with a well-deserved hearty meal at the cozy Petite Zinc Restaurant. The true intimacy of this gem becomes fully evident when the wait-staff sits down with you at your table to more personally share the kitchen's daily specials, such as a divine combo of fresh oysters and sea bass.
Afterward, continue to wind down with an eastern infused drink or mojito at Soeki Tapasalon, located close by to the prestigious Royal Academy (home of the Antwerp Six—or Seven—the pioneers of the fashion movement, which comprises of Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee & Martin Margiela. Swathed in bold wallpaper prints and accented with colorful chairs, this beautiful watering hole has a light-hearted vibe, making it a fun place to hang out.
Finally, crawl into bed at the Hotel Julien, a seriously charming slip of a hotel with just 11 rooms, located right in the center of town. It was recently renovated from two houses (one of which was a post office) both built between the 16th and 17th centuries. The contemporary Flemish decor is one of its high points: beamed ceilings, pale woods, and soothing marble and terracotta tiles, all punctuated by an Eames chair here and there and canvas works by Ann Demeulemeester. Finally, hop into your room's deep tub or soak up the remains of the Antwerp evening out on your terrace.
Antwerp Cheat Sheet:
• Dries Van Noten, Het Modepalais, Nationalstraat 16, +32-03-470-2510
• Louis, Lombardstraat 2, +32-03-232-98-72
• Ann Demeulemeester, Leopold de Waealplaats/Verlatstraat, +32-03-216-0133
• Episode, Steenhouwersvest 34a, +32-03-234-3414
• Francis, Steenhouwersvest 14, +32-03-288-9433
• Labels Inc., Aalmoezenierstraat 4, +32-03-232-6056
• Petite Zinc Restaurant, Veemarkt 9, +32-03-213-1908
• Soeki Tapasalon, Volkstraat 21, +32-03-238-7505
24 Hours in Antwerp with a Professional Shopper.