I had a very naughty start to the year, choosing to bunk off LCM and go on holiday instead. Tsk indeed! I definitely recommend it though. We picked Antwerp for our city break, our flight was half empty and the three days dawdled by at a pleasantly snail-like pace. We went with no great plans other than to mooch around flea markets, eat moules and just enjoy some we-time. OK, we didn’t have much luck on the flea market front but I did discover a wealth of brocante vendors, vintage boutiques and fancy goods emporia to satisfy my shopaholic tendencies. Here then, is my DRG shopping guide to Antwerp…
I advise catching the early Friday flight from City airport so you arrive with a whole day stretched out ahead. Taxis are a bit of a faff in Antwerp so we decided to do everything on foot, taking the scenic route from our posh B&B (the beautiful BOULEVARD LEOPOLD, separate post coming soon) in the Jewish quarter. We headed straight to De Kloosterstraat, the destination for all things vintage and shabby chic.
For gentle ambling and browsing you have the brocante arcades and shops where you’ll find a mish-mash of, well, everything really from vintage linens and enamelware to obscure magazines and beat-up dress forms. TANTE BROCANTE was my favourite for its religious paraphernalia and general air of disarray. I’d compare it slightly to the antique arcades in Portobello but much more rough and ready. I’m not sure there’s anything of great value here but it certainly has heaps of character. There are quite a few warehouse-like spaces selling bigger furniture – think industrial-looking post-war pieces for the urban loft-dweller. I also loved VIAR, another gigantic space expertly merchandised, selling fashion and furniture. My eyes landed straight on the many Delvaux handbags, Chanel cardigans and pre-Philo Celine jackets.
For more serious vintage furniture, head to BLUE FONZ and WOON THEATER towards the end of the street. Blue Fonz specialises in British and American finds such as well-worn paint splattered wooden stools, ancient flags and a1930s mahogany gentleman’s wardrobe in beautiful condition. Woon Theater next door is a mixture of vintage and bespoke pieces alongside a selection of new Ralph Lauren home wares. Worth a visit just to admire and
Also on this street is MODERN SHAPES, a gallery-like store dedicated to old and new European ceramics. If you’re at all interested in glazed, sculptural vessels, enter at your peril. It’s hard not to fondle the pieces and you might just find yourself seduced into buying one. We enjoyed our chat with the knowledgeable and passionate owner, whose personal collection makes up the store inventory (many are one-offs and are signed by the artist).
Another unexpected find was PIET COLAERT, selling a weird and wonderful combo of flower paintings, tribal artifacts and abstract sculptures. A nice respite from all the modernist desks and industrial doo dahs. My favourite shop of all was THE RECOLLECTION, a lifestyle concept store selling stunning Piet van Eek furniture, Aesop toiletries, Kaweko pens and marble knick-knacks, all Instagram-ready, except you’re not allowed to take photos – boo!
It’s very easy to shop for luxury and designer brands in Antwerp as everything is condensed in a small walkable area. In the fashion district (‘De Modewijk’), DELVAUX was our first destination, a bright modern store full of Belgium’s famous boxy bags from the world’s oldest luxury leather goods brand (some consider it the Belgian Hermes). As well as the handbags, I loved the whimsical illustrated silk scarves although it feels like Delvaux is aiming for a more commercial customer with its girly candy-coloured palette. CHANEL and HERMES are also represented in De Schuttershofstraat, the main Bond Street-esque luxury shopping street, with Chanel housed in one of the pretty, gabled brick buildings. All Hermes stores have their own dedicated buyers and whoever is buying for the Antwerp store has an excellent eye. Man, I could have spent some serious euros in here…
Nearby, LOUIS is a great destination for big name designers if that’s your bag. We visited at the height of the sale, where the rails heaved with Barrie knits, tons of Dior and rich pickings of Margiela, Rick Owens and Balmain. Next door is ACNE STUDIOS, run by the same owners so come with a big wallet! Here, you’ll also find an A.P.C so if your style leans to tomboy minimalism then this little stretch is a must-visit.
For Belgian labels, the Walter van Beirdonck-owned DVS is a no-brainer. Don’t be put off by the nondescript entrance which feels a bit like a sample sale, go up to the first floor and you’ll be greeted with two rooms of avant-garde delights from the likes of Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Bernard Wilhelm and Sophie D’Hoore.
A major highlight is obviously the DRIES VAN NOTEN flagship store. The building alone, ‘Het Modepalais’ is quite the stunner, a former department store that retains many of its original features. Even though it was sale time, the sense of taste and creativity were preserved with piles of trippy knits and an essential edit of gentleman’s grooming wares on display (including lots of traditional English brands funnily enough). We didn’t factor in time to visit the ModeMuseum nearby, but settled instead for its cool and Zen-like COPYRIGHT bookstore, a fine place to browse its mezzanines of art, photography, design and fashion tomes.
And across the road is a real treat, an olde worlde specialist glove store straight out of The Grand Budapest Hotel. GANTERIE BOON store has been here since 1884 and is still a family run business. Every type of glove you could want is here, all handmade by suppliers around the world and you’re promised a free while-u-wait re-stitch service should any of your seams come apart. Mr DRG was very pleased with his impulse purchase of lambskin and curly lambswool gloves, lined in cashmere and lovingly wrapped in brown paper.
Another store worth mentioning not far from here is FERNWEH, selling mens and womenswear of the Levi’s, Redwing and Lewis Leathers variety. In London these sorts of stores are ten a penny, but it’s more of an acquired taste in Belgium. Everything was so well presented and the service super-friendly, we looked at these otherwise familiar wares with fresh eyes.
A final word on eateries. We ate a lot. No moules, (or waffles!) but lots of fresh fish and meat and salads. If you want to splash out, go to LE JOHN, a low-key but glamorous restaurant with an Italian-infused menu (I lucked out on my massive succulent steak). For something lighter, we liked FISKEBAR, a casual and extremely hospitable fish and seafood joint serving simple, warming fare with reasonably priced wines. For breakfast, coffee or a snacky lunch, we loved LINTS, an immensely popular patisserie and tearoom besieged by locals queuing for baked-on-site bread and lunchtime quiches. There are also sinful cakes and chocolates to take away, and a vending machine outside for those too impatient to queue!
WORDS AND IMAGES: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
IMAGES TOP TO BOTTOM
MAIN IMAGE: T Koetshuish
DE KLOOSTERSTRAAT: Viar; 4 x T Koetshuish; 6 x Viar; Woon Theater; 2 x Tante Brocante;
Loft Styles; 2 x The Recollection
DE MODEWIJK: Chanel; Delvaux; 3 x DVS
NATIONALSTRAAT: 2 x Dries van Noten; 2 x Copyright; 6 x Ganterie Boon; 2 x Fernweh
EATERIES: 3 x Lints
Pictures taken with the Olympus Pen E-PL7