The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Elke Busschaert

Elke Busschaert

Owner, Cyaankali (1981)

Can you describe what you do?

Five years ago, I got the chance to take over an old yet iconic second-hand shop, Cyaankali and slowly turned it into a fresh designer boutique whilst still retaining its former beloved feel. The only clothes I accept are quality labels, only a few seasons old. Think high-end labels such as Prada, Chloé and Marc Jacobs, Belgian designers such as Dries Van Noten and Maison Martin Margiela but also “fresh” brands such as Filippa K and Samsøe Samsøe (at a fraction of the price). All original, hardly-worn and clean pieces. It’s kind of a treasure trove. We recently moved to a newer and larger location, designed by local carpenter hero Wøti. It’s nestled in between one of the oldest local bruine kroeg in town Jeeskesboom, and hipster hangouts such as coffee roastery MOK and menswear clothing store HELT. I live just outside Leuven and commute everyday by bike, a refreshing way to start the day, and to unwind on the way back home.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven is small enough to have the cosiness of a village, but big enough to have the vibrant energy of a city. There’s an intimate mix of cultures, ages and interests which are all reflected through the assortment of shops, bars and cultural hotspots. The great thing about Leuven is that the city is revived the moment students come back for a new academic year. From September to August, there’s an energetic atmosphere throughout the week. Granted, sometimes it can be too much, but it’s all great fun. And those two summer months are bliss too. There’s a certain tranquillity that descends upon the city when students leave for home and the sun shines down on the Old Market’s cobble stones.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

The compactness of the city. Leuven is very easy to cross on foot or by bike and you’ll be able to go from one area to the next in no time at all. Within ten minutes you can be sitting on the banks of the Leuven-Mechelen canal, laying out a picnic blanket in the urban Sint-Donatus Park, or indulging in a serious shopping spree.

Leuven shows a lot of love and support for their starting entrepreneurs.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

I did a lot of growing up in Leuven: high school, my first job, my first time living alone. Leuven shows a lot of love and support for their starting entrepreneurs: I myself received my fair share from the City as well as Flanders DC and VK when I embarked on my dream project a few years ago.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

There’s this big wall next to my shop that simply screams for a little splash of green. A nice tree and a bench would really brighten up the place even more. In fact, we need more green spaces everywhere, really. Leuven is on its way to becoming a climate neutral city by 2030. More green spread out over the city would be the icing on the cake.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I would go for a mix of good food, strong drinks and a healthy dose of nature and culture. There’s simply too much to choose from – but Baracca, Bar Stan, EssenCiel and Zoff are places that are definitely not to be missed. Personally, I love the Vaartkom neighbourhood. The industrial look combined with water, the cosy terraces and local shops all create a unique atmosphere.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Local party legend, Hsi-Sheng Yin aka de Staarchinees – who’s now even got his own Facebook fanpage. ‘Nuff said.