When I was eighteen most teens my age would want to go and "have a large one" out in Bangkok/Corfu/Magaluf (delete according to preference and budget). I wanted to take the Eurostar to Antwerp and see the birthplace of the "Antwerp Six", wander around looking at old glove shops and chocolatiers and stay in a "hip" bed and breakfast that didn't resemble the musty houses that my parents took me to when we traisped up and down England. More than anything else, I wanted to go alone. It wasn't a romatic getaway, a work trip or even a holiday. It was my sort of brain nourishment away from the noise of London and completely without the pressure to "have fun". I'd consider that partial portion of my student loan, money well spent. My first trip to Antwerp immediately got me hooked on making this fashion-related pilgrimage to this small little city on a regular basis, something which you might have read about if you're very VERY early Style Bubble readers. I've now been to Antwerp about six or seven times and frankly I never tire of it, even when the streets seem smaller and smaller or when every destination shop or museum has been walked over multiple times.
Antwerp and I were reunited once again on Saturday, as I was asked to speak at The Blog Works, a blogging workshop organised by Marie Lema√Ætre and Stephanie Duval aimed at Belgian bloggers (all fields, not just fashion). The trip gave me an opportunity to go to my very own happy place – RA. It's no coincidence that two of my top mind blowing retail experiences happen to both be in Antwerp. The first was the Walter van Beirendonck store on St.Antoniusstraat, which closed six months ago due to a rent hike. Pah! Oh all the bloody things to close a store! Walter van Beirendonck has re-opened on Komedieplaats but it's never going to be the same thing as walking into a surreal dream space with a giant teddy bear and a conveyor belt inside it. The second mind blowing store experience is thankfully very much alive. In fact, RA has expanded to a second Paris location in addition to their original Antwerp store and since my initial visit, has added a RA Kitchen. You can now conceivably wile away hours inside RA, which is exactly what I did on Saturday because it happened to be the coldest day of the year. Plus, they had the Christmas spirit going on with a general market selling gifts, trinkets and pressies RA-style.
Yes, you can coo and ooh at the indulgent interior with its kooky thatched cottage and rooftop garden but it's the selection that still has me slayed. If there was a store that was a pretty decent match to my wardrobe minus my addiction to Topshop, COS and Whistles, RA would be it. The labels which are stocked are broad in their taste range with the common factor being that everything feels unique in its own style sphere. It's where I can indulge in all of my sartorial predilections.I'd go for Meadham Kirchhoff or Louise Gray for clothes that I'm drawn to whatever the occasion. I'd go to Jenny Fax or Mikio Sakabe if I'm feeling like a spot of Japanese subversive kawaii. There's a vintage section with everything from 1930s tea dresses to early 90s Issey Miyake Pleats Please to plug that hole whenever I think my wardrobe is too "new" or "current". Then you have labels like Toga, Creatures of the Wind, Sister by Sibling, Simone Rocha – the list goes on as they all happen to be the ones that get me excited season in season out. Charlie Porter wrote a great piece on his blog about the age of FUN for our current decade. If the nougties was about the democratisation of fashion, then it's time for permanent "FUN" to rule the twenty-tens. Permanent fun is characterised by much of RA's selection and better yet, there's a "Everyone's Welcome" feeling that this kind of fun isn't just aimed at edged-out fashion-y types. I loved the seeing the conservative-looking older couples upstairs rummaging through rails of Gareth Pugh.
It turns out 2013 will be a big year for Antwerp as the famous Antwerp Royal Academy fashion school celebrate their 50th year with a bombastic graduate show, an exhibition at MOMU and more happening late next year. No doubt then I'll be back for more fun-filled pilgrimages to the city.
(From top to bottom left to right: Depression rainbow shirt, Anna October iridescent dress, Jenny Fax sparkle bomber, Simone Rocha silver clutch, Creatures of the Wind embroidered shirt, Louise Gray radiowave trousers, Sister by Sibling flower jumper, Swash floral trousers, Toga skirt over trouser combo, Meadham Kirchhof silk shirt, Sibling x Underground leopard creepers, Simone Rocha perspex heeled brogues, Meadham Kirchhoff teddy bag, Niels Peeraer leather rucksack)