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.

Katrien Herdewyn

Katrien Herdewyn

Founder, Elegnano (1987)

Can you describe what you do?

Over the past three years, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to combine my two biggest passions: after graduating as an engineer with a specialization in nano-technology from KU Leuven in 2010, I studied fashion footwear design in different locations throughout Europe. Today, I run my own company, Elegnano. The name is literally a combination of the words “elegance” and “nanotechnology”. On a day-to-day basis, I work on the integration of technology into high fashion – especially shoes – and vice-versa. High tech in high-heels. With Elegnano, I bring my own designer shoes infused with nano-technology, which are produced in Le Marche in Italy, onto the market. The shoes are water and dirt repellent, so you no longer have to worry about cleaning them. The headquarters are based in Wezemaal, near Leuven, where I have my atelier and where most of the creative work happens, and we also have a showroom in Heverlee, used for business-meetings or appointments with clients. I enjoy being part of three very different worlds: the fashion scene, the scientific world and an entrepreneurial network.

How do you perceive Leuven? In your view, what kind of City is it?

Before I enrolled at the University, I had never lived in Leuven but it was the closest City to the village where I grew up. I’d often come to the City as a child, especially for special occasions such as family outings, shopping sprees, the Leuven Kermis or Christmas Market. Going to Leuven was something special back then, and I’ve never lost that feeling, even when relocating there as a student. I’ve always felt at home here: it’s not too big, and is pretty cosy with all its restaurants, bars and shops close together. This combination of familiarity and cosiness all make for a comforting feel, where I’m never really alone when walking around in Leuven. I never got used to the beauty of the historic centre, especially the Town Hall and University Library. Over the past 15 years, I must’ve seen these buildings a thousand times, and yet I look up every time I pass by imagining how much work and effort was put in over the centuries to create and maintain such majestic buildings. Whenever I tell people I’m from Leuven, they automatically assume I’m studying there which is flattering of course because I’ve long passed the age of 23. But clearly the association of the City with its University is very strong. A couple of years after I graduated from KU Leuven, I was still living in the city centre and started feeling “old”. Not in a negative connotation, but rather because there are so many young people around, that it’s not uncommon at 28 to wonder if you’re the oldest person in your local sandwich bar during the academic lunch break. Every year a new generation settles down in the City, keeping the lively vibe of the city young in perpetuity.

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

Thanks to the presence of KU Leuven and many high schools all around the city centre, Leuven is a very young and vibrant city. The University especially brings people from all over Belgium – and even the world – to Leuven. You can hear all the different dialects, from every corner of Flanders. A lot of people also stay in or around Leuven after they graduate, keeping the national and even international character of Leuven beyond University life. It’s a City for everyone. Leuven is not very big either: in a mere 40 minutes, you can walk from one side of the City to the other. But within the centre, you’ll find plenty of parks, squares, historical buildings, restaurants, bars, boutiques, chain stores… This combination is what boosts the city’s creativity and innovation.

I’ve always felt at home here: it’s not too big, and is pretty cosy with all its restaurants, bars and shops close together.

What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

In Leuven, you’ll find a surplus of knowledge, innovation, history and creativity on a relatively small surface. You’re always surrounded by it, wherever you are in the City, and that’s something I find incredibly inspiring. In my business, I’m active on two very different fields of design and technology – and in Leuven, there’s a strong emphasis on both. KU Leuven, Imec, Leuven MindGate and other players constantly bring innovation to the city. Meanwhile, its history, M-Musem, specialty shops and monuments boost the creative image of Leuven. On top of that, it’s a great location, very safe, and centrally-located in Belgium.

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

Leuven hosts many events throughout the year, and especially during the summer. Most of them focus on popular entertainment, like music and food. As a designer specialising in fashion, I would love to see more events surrounding other art forms such as design, photography, dance, or fashion.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

There are plenty of must-see spots in Leuven and the great thing is that they’re all quite close. The Town Hall in Grote Markt, the University Library on Ladeuzeplein and the Begijnhof beguinage in the City centre all symbolise its rich history. For an afternoon of shopping, the Mechelsestraat and Parijsstraat are my favourites: absolutely lovely streets, with beautiful shops offering a unique selection and restaurants or bars with character. Experiencing this cosiness and authenticity is for me what Leuven is all about. Because I studied and worked at the Arenberg Campus in Heverlee, I also carry a torch for that area. If you want to go for a walk and feel the grass between your toes, the Arenberg Park and Heverlee Castle have always been my favourite hangout spots.