Antwerp may not be make it into the list of great fashion capitals of the world (and yes I know it’s not really a capital either, that’s Brussels) but the Belgian city could make a strong case for inclusion. Historically, Antwerp was central to the European textile industry, as cloth was woven, dyed and traded there in the Middle Ages, and the city’s fame in contemporary fashion has it’s roots in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Founded in 1633, it was 300 years before a Fashion Department was opened at the school, from where the avant-garde fashion stars known for the Antwerp Six – including Martin Margiela and Dries van Noten – emerged. The Department building is also home to MoMu, a fashion museum, and even London hasn’t got one of those.
After a visit there with my parents last week, here’s my guide to the fashion fan’s perfect Antwerp day trip.
Meir is the Oxford Street of Antwerp, so head there for the flagships of recognisable UK and US imports like River Island and Forever21, but don’t forget to try out their European counterparts like Vero Moda and Only to pick up pieces that easily aren’t available in the UK. I saw three separate H&Ms on Meir, including one dedicated only to lingerie and accessories, so you know it provides a thorough inventory of high street retail.
Nationalestraat is the most famous shopping street in Antwerp, lined with high end boutiques, vintage and independent shops. It’s also where the fashion museum, MoMu (mode museum) is located.
Unfortunately, when we went there was metal fencing running all the way down the middle of Nationalstraat (it looked like tram improvement works), which didn’t look very nice and made the pavements smaller. Hopefully this will all be cleared up in time for the Antwerp Fashion Festival 2014 (12 and 13 September) when shops will be open late.
The streets running off Nationalestraat are also populated with chic boutiques and trendy clothes shops, in particular Kammenstraat, where you’ll find a lot of sportswear brands, plus the highly recommended cupcake shop, Patty Cake. I was dying to sample one of their sweet treats but we ended up getting ice creams on Nationalestraat instead.
My parents are massively into their Belgian beers and they swear the Kulminator is the best pub in Antwerp because it’s ‘like stepping back in time.’ It did look very cool from the outside, but they wanted to try someone new so we went to De Groote Witte Arend (big white eagle), a cool bar and restaurant set around an ancient-looking courtyard not far from the Cathedral of Our Lady. Mother and Father chose from the insanely extensive beer menu and I had a cappuchino before we set off in the car back to Holland where they live.
We also stopped off at two excellent parks while in Antwerp. We ate our packed lunch in the Stadspark, a large green space near Central Station where you can watch swans floating on a tranquil lake. It’s also got a skate park that was filled with kids making the most of the last days of their summer holidays.
We also happened to pass through the Botanic Garden, a beautiful secluded walled park home to hundreds of species of plants, karp-filled ponds and a few art installations.