Straight to the heart of Flanders fashion

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Slice Of The City: Antwerp - Back in 1988, a group of young designers took London by storm. William Cook picks up the trail of the Antwerp Six

For Flemish fashionistas, it's become the stuff of legend: in 1988 half a dozen graduates from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts threw some clothes into a van and drove to England for what was then called the London Fashion Fair.

Hailed as the Antwerp Six, these unknown designers – including Dries Van Noten – wowed the fashion world and returned as local heroes. So, as the Flanders Fashion Institute prepares a showcase event at this year's London Fashion Week (until 21 February; britishfashioncouncil.com), why not pay a visit there, and strut around Antwerp's fashion hot spots?

Antwerp is a compact city that's easy to get around on foot, and scores of designers live and work right in the heart of town. Despite its worldwide renown, the fashion scene here still feels like a cottage industry. Walking from shop to shop, you get a good flavour of this creative city – not just the clothes, but the bars and galleries and historic buildings.

The best place to start is on Leopold de Waelplaats, at the flagship store of Ann Demeulemeester (00 32 3216 0133; anndemeulemeester. be). She was a leading member of the Antwerp Six and is now one of Europe's top designers. Her shop's floor is stark and arresting, like an avant-garde gallery. It's an extension of her workshop and her only store in Europe, the other three being in the Far East.

Brasserie Nero, a few doors away (00 32 3292 6500; brasserienero.be), is a good place for coffee (or cava), with lots of locals dropping in for everything from brunch to supper.

Now walk north along Volkstraat and into Nationalestraat. In a quiet side street called Sint Antoniusstraat you'll find the studio of another Antwerp Six veteran, Walter Van Beirendonck (00 32 3231 7732; waltervanbeirendonck.com). Van Beirendonck is famous for his colourful, iconoclastic clothes, but his no-nonsense shopfront, formerly a garage, is refreshingly down to earth.

Further up Nationalestraat, you come to the hub of Antwerp's fashion scene, ModeNatie, site of the Flanders Fashion Institute and the influential fashion department of the Academy of Fine Arts, where the Antwerp Six all trained. It's also home to MoMu (00 32 3470 2770; momu.be; closed Mondays), Antwerp's excellent fashion museum, with temporary exhibitions throughout the year. The next major show is on fashion's influence upon middle-class women, from 1750 to 1950, and opens on 21 March. Downstairs is Copyright (00 32 3232 9416; copyrightbook shop.de), a classy art and architecture store with books on Antwerp designers and Flanders fashion.

Carry on up Nationalestraat to Het Modepaleis, a beautiful fin de siècle building that's the chic flagship of Dries Van Noten (00 32 3470 2510; driesvan noten.be). His designs are more classical than the other Antwerp Sixers, but they still startle – his Lightscape dresses are stunning.

From here, turn right into Lombardenvest, past a quaint old-fashioned glove shop, Huis a Boon (00 32 3232 2387; glovesboon.be) and turn right again down Lombardenstraat, to Maison Anna Heylen (00 32 3232 3282; annaheylen.be). Anna still works upstairs in this old warehouse. She's one of the new designers who've come through the Academy of Fine Arts since the Antwerp Six – proof that things here are constantly evolving. Anna's clothes are versatile and often understated. If you're lucky, you can sometimes find designer dresses on her sale rail for less than €100.

By now, you'll probably need a bite to eat and a stiff drink to wash it down. Appelmans (00 32 3226 2022; brasserie appelmans.be) is a bustling restaurant with hearty Flemish food and an absinthe bar next door. Just retrace your steps to Het Modepaleis, turn left up Kammenstraat and it's in Papenstraatje, the third street on the right. I had the Antwerp stew (beef in beer) with thick chips and a white cabbage salad followed by a slice of apple pie for €23. A glass of absinthe costs €7.50. If you're not too tired and footsore after all that shopping, there are DJs here on Fridays and Saturdays.

Come out of Appelmans, and you're right beside Antwerp's grandiose Gothic cathedral. If you want to see the works by Rubens inside (four in all, including The Elevation of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross, two of his greatest masterpieces), you need to come between 10am and 5pm (or 3pm on Saturdays and 1-4pm on Sundays), though the best time to appreciate Antwerp's architectural sights – a rich blend of medieval and Renaissance – is after dark.

Walk across the Grote Markt, Antwerp's ancient central square, and stop outside the flamboyant town hall to get an idea of what a political powerhouse Antwerp was during the 16th and 17th centuries. It's the perfect place to finish your walk, surrounded by the ornate merchant houses of Rubens's mercantile contemporaries.

The modern boutiques of the Antwerp Six may not be quite so striking, but with this lively city now established as the cultural capital of Flanders, they're certainly the most fitting symbols of Antwerp's current renaissance.

Travel Essentials

Getting There

Travel by Eurostar (08432 186186; eurostar. com) from London St Pancras, Ashford or Ebbsfleet to Brussels Midi and change for local train for Antwerp. An Any Belgian Station ticket (from £80) covers both legs.

Staying There

Conveniently located above Brasserie Nero, Hotel O (00 32 3292 6510; hotelhotelo.com) has doubles from €145, room only. The black decor is a bit overwhelming but the beds are supremely comfy.

Go Guided

Visitors can book guided tours through the tourist office (00 32 3232 0103; antwerpen.be) on subjects such as fashion and Rubens.

Fresh Cuts

Antwerp's high rise Museum aan de Stroom, aka MAS (00 32 3338 4434; mas.be) which opened last year, is the city's most spectacular modern building. Built in the edgy dockland district north of the centre, it houses an atmospheric mixture of fine art, history and ethnology, but the best thing about it is the view. Almost 400 years after Rubens's death he is still Antwerp's most famous artist, and there are several houses associated with his life and work. These museums have been enhanced by loans of Rubens originals from KMSA, Antwerp's museum of fine art, while it's closed for renovation. See these pictures in their proper habitats at Rubenshuis, the Rockoxhuis and the Plantin-Moretus Museum (antwerpen.be)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
businessHow bosses are inventing unusual ways of making us work harder
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?