Take a quick glance at her deconstructed silk dresses and minimalist white leather biker jackets, and it’s not hard to see why London-based designer Charlie May (aka fashion blogger Girl a La Mode) regularly finds inspiration in the chic Belgium port town of Antwerp. Famed as the home of ‘Antwerp Six’ - the group of influential designers who graduated from the city’s Royal Academy in the early ’80s - Antwerp is still a hub of high-concept design stores, consignment shops and ateliers - not to mention the legendary stock sales to which Charlie is an annual pilgrim.
Read on for her guide to the city’s best boutique hotels, bars, and bargain-filled vintage stores….
What first brought you to Antwerp?
While I was at university my friend went out to do an internship with Ann Demeulemeester in Antwerp. I went out to visit her and just fell in love with the city! It might seem like an unusual holiday destination, but a combination of the Belgian fashion scene, the architecture and, of course, the beer keeps me going back.
What is it about the city that you find so inspiring?
I love the architecture of the buildings with all the spears and points on top of the roof fronts. There are plenty of beautiful old pubs, contrasted with very cool modern shops and restaurants.
Where do you stay when you’re there?
This last time I went we stayed in a couple of hotels - Hotel Les Nuits is a very cool and modern hotel right in the centre of the city. Sleeping Around are old shipping crates recycled into hotel rooms right on the harbour front. I have also couch surfed around town with the city’s fashion students, which was amazing way to get get a glimpse of their work.
What are you always sure to pack?
Most times I visit, I bring an empty suitcase as I’m coming for the stocksales - twice a year designers such as Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Haider Ackermann have sample sales at insanely knocked down prices. You can also buy amazing fabrics for about €5 a metre - a must for all fashion students! Other than that, crisp tailoring and liquid silks are always in my case.
Where are your favourite shopping destinations while you’re in town?
The second hand designers stores are the best. My two favourites are, Labels Inc and Rosier 41 - here you’ll find all the best names including discounted Yohji Yamamoto, Balenciaga, Raf Simons, Ann Demeulemeester etc.
Then there are the vintage stores - Think Twice has the most insane sales all the time, where the first day of sale everything is €5, going down a Euro everyday until the last day when everything in store is €1!
What has been your best ever Antwerp buy?
Always Ann Demeulemeester shoes. My best buy was the triple lace boots, I never thought I would ever see them for sale and then there they were for about €150 - the original runway versions! I couldn’t believe it.
Fashion aside, why should we all visit Antwerp?
It’s a beautiful city, with incredible architecture and friendly people. Every beer has its own unique glass and all the food is delicious. You have to go!
CHARLIE MAY’S ANTWERP TRAVEL NOTES
Your Favourite Spot for…
…a great dinner?
Renaissance is my favourite place to eat in Antwerp - it’s a minimal Italian restaurant and a high fashion concept store!
…a quick drink?
Het Elfde Gebod. Located directly under the Cathedral, this pub not only sells very strong delicious beer but is also filled to brim with Christian statues! A must visit.
…coffee and breakfast?
I discovered Le Pain Quotidien when I was first in Antwerp years ago. Now it’s everywhere in London but the breakfast spot in Antwerp is still my favourite.
…a night out?
I’ve never managed to go to any of the clubs or free parties in Antwerp but there’s a big nightlife scene there, especially on the harbourside. You can always have a great night in any one of the classic pubs around the city.
…a great view?
A walk along the harbour is always beautiful - when the sun is out, all the young people from the city hang out by the water.