The Fashion Districts of Brussels
Whatever Belgian designers turn their artistic hands to—be it an ornament or a piece of furniture, undergarments or ball gowns—it sells almost as quickly as it is made to discerning customers in the best stores around the world. Practicality and innovation are the keywords associated with designs from Brussels; which are well rounded with a good dose of humor and an absolute respect for quality.
Establishments and Entrepreneurs
Fashion shows, exhibitions and a couture trail take visitors to the Rue Dansaert, the Saint-Jacques district, Le Sablon Square and Avenue Louise, where designer stores and vintage boutiques offer shop till you drop opportunities. From stylish well-established labels to the up-and-coming flash New Kids on the Block, Brussels has cultivated a unique group of designers who can turn silk, cashmere or linen into exceptional limited edition items.
Ultra-cool, trendy and stylish, the Dansaert district attracts a lot of attention. The genius of this district’s designers has made Brussels the avant-garde city it is today. Dansaert is the nerve center of creative design, where, some say, the course of European fashion was changed.
Constantly under the spotlight, this district has won the heart not only of the designers and leading fashion houses but the visiting fashion slaves too. From subtly stylish, to flashy, or sexy to romantic, nostalgic or timeless, every shape and style can be found here. Something that should not be overlooked either is the Usagexteme; some 600m² entirely dedicated to young designers and new trends in the French Community.
Nearby is the trendy Saint-Géry district, which has numerous lively cafes and the Brussels’ Canal, where you need to linger a while to take in the neo-Renaissance architecture of the Halles Saint-Géry and the Eglise Sainte-Catherine.
Home to the Manneken-Pis, Brussels most famous landmark, is the Saint-Jacques district which could be best described as incredible, adorable, generous, lively and spontaneous. The comic strip walls fill the district with color, and the collectors and second-hand clothes dealers all get on well together, openly taunting one another for fun. There is a little of everything here—fashion to vintage, artistic to sophisticated gadgets to second-hand books, comic strips to music, all happily coexisting.
Start off in the upper part of the district, with the “Fondation Jacque Brel,” located on the Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés, with its beautiful buildings. Be certain to take in Emery & Cie, the main shop of the Brussels’ designer who is single-handedly responsible for revolutionizing the world of interior decoration. And don’t miss out on some of the completely whacky shops, such as Rosalie Pompon where you will find the quirkiest objects; or the mini boutique Art.
As for clothing, diversity is the first of the many qualities in this part of town, which nonchalantly mixes style and tastes. A few resolutely “in” shops such as Prive Joke, or trendy ones such as Mr Ego, or the more sophisticated Putiikki, are found next to fabulous ethnic styles of Patricia Mouvet’s (Chez Alizari) cotton fabrics; or the fairytale children streetwear boutique, Pygmées. Fabulous second-hand clothing boutiques have a strong link to the area and include Bernard Gavilan, who specializes in 50s and 60s vintage clothes as well as Ramon & Valy, another vintage gem for those looking for great labels such as Courréges or Chanel.
Comic strips fans should head to Boulevard Anspach and Rue du Midi for the best albums and fun accessories. For more feminine accessories Lady Paname Boudoir is a must. As is a 3-D stroll in time, space and rhythm when you enter Arlequin’s, a monument to second-hand music.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The most prestigious covered passageway in Europe, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, is a testament to elegance and grandeur beneath an Italian Renaissance glass roof. Luxury designer leather goods, interiors designers and jewelers with names that have always been evocative of luxury, are here where opulence oozes from every brick.
Found in the affluent Marolles district is the Sablon—a square for lovers of antiques and works of art, ultra-chic shops, master chocolate makers and sidewalk cafes. Hunched in the shadows of the beautiful Eglise Notre-Dame du Sablon are antique dealers, divine restaurants, world renowned fashion designers, jewelers, gallery owners, and interior decorators. On Sunday mornings, the square turns into an antique market.
In the City
All great capitals have one: Paris has the Champs Elysées, London has Bond Street, New York has Fifth Avenue, but Brussels has two—Avenue Louise and Boulevard de Waterloo.
Avenue Louise has become the muse of fashion designers. Lined with grand townhouses, including ones designed by Victor Horta, the avenue is home to the likes of Natan Couture, Eduard Vermeulen, the fashion designer to the ladies of the Royal Court, as well as the famous designer Olivier Strelli and the Queen’s hairdresser, Roger.
As you draw close, the Louise bottleneck, one of Brussels most attractive shopping areas, Belgian’s new labels take over—Bellerose, Mer du Nord, Riverwoods and COD.
Nearby is Boulevard de Waterloo which is lined with mansions; mansions which the biggest names in fashion have chosen to show their exclusive designs: Gucci and Giorgio Armani, Chanel and Dior, Gucci and Hermes, Yves Saint-Laurent, Versace, Salvatore Ferragamo and Ralph Lauren.
In less time than it takes you to write down their names, you’ll move from the chic and very conservative ambiance of the royal quarter to the lively and rather warm ambiance of cultural Ixelles. Along the Chaussée d’Ixelles, your gaze will be drawn to the colorful stalls of Matangé where the fading elegance of the exciting and exotic Congolese district is a cheerful detour which awakens your senses with aromas and bright colors. There are a vast number of stalls selling fruits and vegetables from Africa here, as well as African hairdressing and “waxing” salons, and textiles inspired by Javanese batik.
This delightful diversion leads to the heart of Saint-Boniface, an Art Nouveau district where Brussels design is embodied by the presence of Nina Meert, who claims to find the vitality of the resident artists and intellectuals an inspiration for her designs.
Beautiful Brussels awaits, and whatever your taste, you will be sure to find something you like. WOW air offers cheap flights to Brussels from USA, Canada and Iceland.
Text and photos by Cindy-Lou Dale
Header photo by iStockphoto.com/adisa