Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in, your daily routine, the people you work with, the scene you feel the closest to.
I work for a fashion designer, my daily routine during the week is to go to her studio outside Antwerp to work on the collection that we show in Paris. I live in the Jewish district, but still pretty central. I like this area, because it feels like living in another time. I find the traditionally-dressed Jewish people – very elegant and inspiring. Besides that I have to admit I mostly hang out with people that are in fashion as well – or art. I studied fashion at the Royal Academy here and am still in contact with some students but also have a lot of friends I studied with that work here for different labels or on their own.
How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
What I love about Antwerp is that it feels like a big city but you basically have everything in walking distance. When I moved here to study at the academy, I was immediately surrounded by a very international and inspiring group of people. I don’t think there are a lot of cities this size that have such a high variety of very talented and inspiring people that come from all around the world. It took me a bit longer to get to know more locals, but I also feel that people here in general are very open-minded, but stubborn at the same time. A lot of times I feel it is much more relaxed than big cities – also in the way you meet people. Here, the possibility of getting into conversations with world famous people by accident, or that you meet well-known artists, architects, fashion designers in the weirdest bar happens pretty often because people here don’t walk on their tiptoes that much. In bigger cities, you often feel much more of a differentiation between (I don’t like those words) the “high society” and the “normal people”.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?
For me, there is one very obvious reason: the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the designers that graduated had a very big influence on the fashion scene. That was my reason to move here – but there are a lot of reasons that don’t make me wan to leave. For one, I love the mixture of architecture in this city – you can see everywhere that the city has a rich history, and that people here always had a very high sense for aesthetics and taste. I love walking through Antwerp and just looking at buildings. There is a mix of very different styles and eras. The many Art Déco buildings give the city a dark glamorous side. Of course, there is also the vicinity to big European cities like Paris or London that has a big impact on the creative output in this city. You can feel that people here strive to keep up with the creatives in these metropoles, but here things are given more time to grow. There is a certain coziness to this city that relaxes you and can make you more focussed – also because in contrast to London or Paris the rent prices here are affordable. You can afford a nice life without too much pressure.
How would you say has Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Antwerp definitely had a big impact on making me who I am today. Most of all, the people I met during my studies. I guess the study period is important for the development of most people. I’ve never before been in contact with so many interesting, talented, creative, international and diverse people before in my life. We had tons of work for the academy but going through this together really made us grow together and I learned a lot from these different people – to really find myself and not try to be someone I’m not. And being in a city that has so much to give aesthetically really shaped my eye and taste. The past years, despite having dealt with a lot of criticism and pressure, gave me a lot of confidence. Later on during my studies, I also had side jobs, which was equally crucial for me – getting to know more local people and the feeling of independence. For me, Antwerp was the perfect city to start adulthood: you have a certain security because it is a kind of small circle, while you get to know people from here with worldwide success under more relaxed and personal circumstances. There was a moment after my studies when I felt it was time to leave because I had too much time and got bored going to the same places, so I moved to Copenhagen. It was good for me to do that because I really needed that change but then, the first time I came back to visit Antwerp, I felt how much I had missed it and moved back a few months later. After that period, I appreciated Antwerp so much more and I could really see that it had become my home.
Being in a city that has so much to give aesthetically really shaped my eye and taste.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
I would like to see more good exhibitions in the museums. Antwerp’s reputation is linked closely to art, and I think that the quality of the exhibitions in the art museums can’t really keep up with the surrounding cities – Brussels, Ghent, Paris, Amsterdam. I think there are a lot of interesting contemporary and modern art in galleries, and I also like the curation of the fashion museum. I miss the representation of the Flemish masters (but hopefully that will change with the re-opening of the fine arts museum) and also more good contemporary art exhibitions in the M HKA. Another thing I find sad to see is that Antwerp used to be a city with a very high variety of shops, in Kloosterstraat for example and I see that variety going back. I think the city should put more effort into keeping these specialty stores that make the city so unique instead of letting it become like any other city.
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?
It’s as easy as strolling around the in the centre on the weekend, exploring the many shops and galleries. I often take out-of-towners to the fashion museum as well. For lunch, I often take people to “Kleine Bourla” to have typical Belgian dishes in an opulent settings or to Civilta del Bere to have great pizza with a beautiful view on the fine arts museum, or to Camino. Domestic is my favourite bakery and has a convenient location. I mostly take visitors to Rosier 41 and Labels INC for vintage design pieces. In the evenings, we’d have Apéro at Vitrine, and then dinner at Le John, which has a very cozy bar and great food in a very tasteful setting. I also love to go to Middelheim Park in the weekend – a very beautiful sculpture park outside of the city that relaxes me a lot. The pavilion by Renaat Braam is especially amazing.Instagram.com/zazaboehm Photography Joke De Wilde