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.

Jeroen Lemaître

Jeroen Lemaître

Owner and taxidermist, Animaux Spéciaux (1987)

Can you describe what you do?

Up until a few years ago, taxidermy was considered a rather tacky and cruel practice – and I like to think that I did my part in turning this image around. I sought to “update” this practice by limiting myself strictly to animals that died a natural death, and combining it with flair and artistry. I’d call myself a “treatise hunter”: someone who tracks down interesting collectables or makes them themselves by hand. From colourful insects preserved under cloches or in frames, to taxidermy, intriguing accessories, exotic plants and even artwork. These are all for sale in my beloved shop Animaux Spéciaux, as well as online.

These last few years, Leuven has grown into a very dynamic city: some neighbourhoods have “re-branded” their identities (like one half of Mechelsestraat, or Tiensestraat) while others are completely brand-new.

How do you perceive Leuven?

These last few years, Leuven has grown into a very dynamic city: some neighbourhoods have “re-branded” their identities (like one half of Mechelsestraat, or Tiensestraat) while others are completely brand-new. Think of the Vaartkom area, with its shiny Sluispark. Also, the city’s rich legacy alongside its age-old University shouldn’t be ignored.

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

Leuven might not be that big, but it does have a lot to offer, regardless of whether you’re looking for modern or historical architecture, fashion, design, music, art or nature. Small and cosy, everything’s reachable by foot or bike here. The capital is really close by, which also makes it very appealing.

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

I first started my career on the little antique market on Mathieu de Layensplein, taking place every Saturday. It’s here that I bumped into Mieke, owner of PROFIEL, a very beautiful haute-couture shop in the first part of the Mechelsestraat. She graciously provided me with a place to showcase my work, alongside other, high-class fashion designers. More than that, she also taught me how to give people an experience and, more importantly, the art of selling. A bit later, I came across an affordable shop-house in Leuven by accident, and instantly fell in love with its beautifully curved window. At that time, the shop was equipped with fluorescent lights and vinyl flooring, but I immediately saw past that to find the potential in this 18th Century fishermen’s bar-turned-lingerie store.

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

When it comes to housing, Leuven is a very expensive city. A lot of houses have been turned into student accommodation, resulting in high revenues for very few individuals. A real nuisance, since this keeps housing prices extremely high. Young families are increasingly forced to live in surrounding cities, instead of staying in Leuven. Also, Leuven seems to have a very narrow view when defining “urban centre”. The whole area within the ring road should be seen as a place to cultivate shops, bars and cultural facilities. As such, Bar Stan is a very good example of a bar with a social purpose: neighbours see it as an extension of their living room. Hands down one of my favourite places here.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven?

M-Museum for its contemporary art exhibitions, or even for its beautiful architecture courtesy of Stéphane Beel. STUK for its diverse program of concerts, movie screenings, art exhibitions and dance performances. The Klein Begijnhof beguinage for its tiny streets and houses dating back to the 13th Century. The Town Hall for its impressively detailed facade. Parijsstraat and Mechelsestraat for their tiny and surprising shops. And last but certainly not least, Commerce, Bar Stan, Zoff, Optimist, Le Chameau s’en Fout, and Donki for food and drinks.

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

The oldest matron lives above my shop: Madeleine is 92 years old, and she’ll pamper anyone around with her jokes, little snacks and her famous bottle of Gini. She likes talking to us, so goes to empty her letterbox five times a day – even if it’s empty most of the time.