Avante garde, exuberant, and inviting, Antwerp is fast emerging as one of Europe’s trendiest cities. The city’s old world-feel and rich history serves as the perfect backdrop for the modern aura and inspiring spirit. And if you thought decadent chocolate and exotic brews were all they had here think again! Belgium’s creative hub is busting with iconoclastic designers, who have gained global recognition and admiration. Famed fashion forces like Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulmeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, and Martin Margiela all graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts and continue to bring industry acclaim to the region. Jil Sander’s Raf Simons also lives and works in Antwerp!
With dozens of unique boutiques, concept stores, and antique shops, fashionistas will feel right at home. Plus you will end up leaving with pieces you truly couldn’t find anywhere else. And when you need a bit of refueling, hit up one of the many Flemish hot spots for a good meal, people watching, and a toast with friends. Here are some of our favorite finds:
Where to Stay:
The Hotel Matelote
Haarstraat 11A, 2000 Antwerp; (T) +32 3 201 88 00
This charming 11-room boutique hotel is ideally situated in close proximity to the Historical Center and emerging shopping areas. Ignore the lack of an elevator and air conditioning and instead embrace the distinct local character and modish décor.
Where to Shop:
11 Hoogstraat, 2000 Antwerp; (T) +32 3 294 54 60 Kitsch has never been so cool.
A menagerie of plastic animals will greet you at the door to this humorous gift shop, which is stocked with items for your pets, parents, and apartment.
Kloosterstraat 177, 2000 Antwerp; (T) +32 3 336 45 95
A piece of fashion heaven in the heart of the South Side, this adorably feminine boutique re-stocks with a brand new collection from three Copenhagen-based designers every two months.
Noë by Your
Kloosterstraat 90, 2000 Antwerp; (T) +32 3 337 7110
A rich rainbow of leather pumps, platforms, and flats awaits the shoe obsessed at this footwear mecca.
Leopold de Waelplaats 12, 2000 Antwerpen; (T) +32 3 216 01 22
This optic boutique makes eyewear a work of art. Innovative shapes and materials make for fashionable frames that are quite distinct. The store creates its own private label styles and also carries glasses from Dries Van Noten, RayBan and more.
Kloosterstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen; (T) +32 3 292 37 80
A café, gallery, bookstore and designer destination all in one, Ra stocks irreverent directional brands like Gareth Pugh, Jeremy Scott, Linda Farrow, Rad Harouni, Rodarte, and Yang Du. The sculpture garden is also a must see.
Nationalestraat 28-32, 2000 Antwerp; (T) +32 3 369 01 08
Adjacent to MoMu, this chic multi-brand store is a mini museum of sorts. Alexander Wang, Carven, Helmut Lang, If Six Was Nine, Jill Sander Navy, Joseph, Victoria Beckham, and Versus, all line the white walls of this sleek space. Grab a drink at the bar while the DJ spins and prepare for some beautiful big-ticket impulse buys.
Nationalestraat 91, 2000 Antwerp (T) +32 3 232 62 26
American designers like Jason Wu, Proenza Schouler, and The Row have a place in Antwerp’s flourishing fashion scene thanks to this dazzling retail destination that carries other luxe labels like Hussein Chalayan and Vivienne Westwood.
Where to Grab a Drink:
Haarstraat 9, 2000 Antwerp; (T) +32 3 231 32 07
This charming restaurant and wine bar is sleek and modern without being cold. The inviting spot boasts an impressive wine wall in place of the classic libation lists. Grab a table by the window and polish off a bottle or snag a seat by the bar for mingling and a proper apéritif.
Tavernierkaai 1, 2000 Antwerp For port-side hanging, this indoor, outdoor cocktail lounge and pop-up bar is open from June through December. Wood paneling and straw lamps make for a beachy feel and the owner is gracious and kind. After midnight, he circulates the space with warm French fries to curb those munchies.
What to See:
MoMu: The Mode Museum
Nationalestraat 28, 2000 Antwerp; (T) +32 3 470 27 70
Check out the latest exhibition Unravel: Knitwear in Fashion, which runs through August 14, 2011 and features the luxurious, versatile, and inspiring work of Belgian, Italian, French, and Japanese designers.
*For more on Antwerp and other Cool Capitals visit Coolcapitals.com.