Belgium has become a real fashion hub in recent years and a success model against the powerful brands from Paris and New York. This has prompted the Belgian Government to continue supporting the local talent with the aim of creating a well-established international sector. The country has become a case study in schools for having established ‘Made in Belgium’ as a high-quality standard in just 35 years. Brussels and Antwerp are now rivalling to become the nation’s fashion capital as both benefit from a convenient location in the heart of Europe and a vast pool of talent.
While Antwerp has always been recognised by the international fashion industry – just think of the Antwerp Six (Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee) -, Brussels is just emerging as a contender. The city has understood that the fashion industry improves Brussels’ image, boosts tourism and bolsters its economy. Brussels, just like Antwerp, currently is home to plenty of prominent fashion designers; Christian Wijnants, Olivier Theyskens and Alain Berteau, for example. Diane von Furstenberg was even born in Brussels.
‘Antwerp has been the fashion capital of Belgium for many years, yet Brussels is catching up.’
But, how did Brussels emerge as a real ‘fashion capital’ over the last few years? According to Marjolein van de Munt, a fashion influencer with over 10,000 followers and fashion journalist, ‘Antwerp has been the fashion capital of Belgium for many years. Antwerp has a large fashion museum (the MoMu), the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and well-known designers such as Ann Demeulemeester and Dries van Noten who have all studied there. Yet, Brussels is catching up. I think this has to do with the Brussels Fashion Days, as well as MAD (A collaborative exhibition by five Brussels-based designers) and Wallonie-Bruxelles Design Mode (a public agency that provides support to design and fashion companies, and designers in Wallonia and Brussels). The big names from Antwerp have been in the business for years and you can see that Wallonie-Bruxelles Design Mode and Brussels Fashion Days were both founded only about 10 years ago.’
‘The big four fashion capitals, New York City, Milan, London, and Paris, have a number of things in common: they have played an important role in the history of fashion, they are home to several big international names and the fashion capitals also house a leading fashion school and/or museum. At the moment, Brussels has a beautiful museum, The Museum of Fashion & Lace, which is definitely worth a visit,’ continues Van de Munt. Brussels is also home to Ecole nationale supérieure des arts visuels de La Cambre (La Cambre for short), an art school with a fashion course whose alumni include Anthony Vaccarello (Saint Laurent’s creative director) and Julien Dossena (Paco Rabanne’s creative director). La Cambre has become so successful that a growing number of international students are moving to Brussels for their studies.
‘The mix of different cultures could make Brussels unique and distinguish itself.’
Brussels is a multicultural city. With 180 nationalities, 100 languages spoken and 2 out of 3 of its inhabitants being born abroad, Brussels is the second most cosmopolitan city in the world after Dubai. ‘This is definitely an important factor and will certainly contribute to the growth of Brussels’ fashion industry,’ says Van de Munt. ‘The interesting thing about different cultures is that everyone has their own idea or interpretation of a material. For example, with a piece of blue-colored cotton, I might think it is denim, but someone else might find it the perfect fabric for an evening dress. This ensures an interesting mix and faster growth because of the different ideas that can be exchanged with each other. This mix of different cultures could also make Brussels unique and distinguish itself.’
How does the so-called ‘fashion crowd’ from Brussels look at the city becoming a fashion capital? We discuss this with Debbie Clerkin and Deirdre Clehan, Brussels-based personal stylists, who together form ‘The Happy Closet,’ and with Leen Schodts from Brussels, a personal stylist, personal shopper and former brand consultant to Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake.