Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in?
Along with Brecht Baert, I own and run Studio Helder, a shop and platform for contemporary design objects, interior design, jewellery and accessories from international designers and artists. We also operate as a design office and create projects from interior to fashion design. With the shop, we try to showcase our universe. It is an ideal platform and showroom to receive clients and make them curious about the things we create and develop. We are based on the Vrijdagmarkt square, which is very central and yet tucked away from the main tourist and shopping places. You can find the Plantin Moreitus museum, several intimate bars and cafes as well as a small selection of authentic shops around here. There aren’t too many people running in and out, which allows us to manage the store while simultaneously working on other assignments. When the lights are still on after 11pm. and the door is unlocked, there’s a big chance an interested customer or a friend will walk in. That’s part of the neighbourhood. The atmosphere here is very relaxed and enjoyable.
People here are opinionated, there is much discussion and criticism about what’s not done, possible or should be. But eventually everyone does his “goesting”.
How do you perceive Antwerp? What gives the city its edge?
In Antwerp, I discovered my weakness for port cities. I love the mix of cultural influences combined with the rugged, desolate of the skippers quarters. And the grandiose run-down buildings like the Stadsfeestzaal before their renovation. People would walk from the station over the Meir to the Grand Bazar and hardly look up at the chipped place. It was all quite mysterious. Or the loud and messy Vrijdagmarkt, that auctions everything from forecloses, and which is essential to a complete different crowd than the ones on the cafe terraces on the other weekdays. It shows how culture can have several meanings through different social layers. I’m more attracted to beauty and things that are generally less obvious. And Antwerp delivers, with its diversity and contrasts. People here strive for world class while at the same time being nonchalant. The choice you have in Belgium, in the fields of art, film, theater and music is bigger than anywhere else. Almost comparable to metropoles such as Paris or even New York. People here are opinionated, there is much discussion and criticism about what’s not done, possible or should be. But eventually everyone does his “goesting”. What I also like, is that you don’t really need introduction. I have met the same people several times in complete different circumstances. That’s when you start talking and become friends or end up working together. It all works very organically. That Antwerp is smaller makes the city more humane. In Paris or London, you can live if you have lots of money, otherwise these cities are very hard. For me, these conditions encourage creativity and possibility to establish and see through your ideas. I grew up in Zürich, Switzerland, where everything is super organized, upgraded and runs perfectly like a swiss clockwork. After graduating in fashion design, but without a ten-year plan, Antwerp felt less stereotyped and predetermined.
How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
It’s here that everything started for me. I’m interested in many things, and the crossover between different disciplines is very engaging and enriching. Here I managed to move on and widen my playing field without having to move away. Also due to its central location, it is possible for me to have a workday in London or visit a design fair in Eindhoven and be home for dinner.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
I think that Antwerp represents itself quite openly and has had a boost in entrepreneurship as of late, which is a positive condition. But I find the frequency of the less commercial and financially limited businesses or initiatives closing after only one or two years a bit scary. Often before having the chance to grow to their full potential. In this sense, I would rather see less than more.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
Food and flower shopping on the Vogeltjesmarkt. Eat a typical Flemish dinner in the Arme Duvel. Have a late Drink at Clodette. Sleep in and visit a flea market or exhibition and end up dancing on a Sunday Matinee Party at Bar Gloed. Please don’t tell me if you find that one place that truly symbolises the city! It would contradict my perception on Antwerp.
local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?
Café Corso on the Vrijdagmarkt is a local legend