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.

Lotte Martens

Lotte Martens

Founder and head designer, Lotte Martens (1982)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a designer and producer of hand-printed textile products. From the initial design to the final touches, all the fabrics are designed and hand-printed by myself in my atelier in Leuven, or in collaboration with European partners. This strictly means no pre-bought prints or child labour in developing countries are involved in my work. We produce unique and innovative products – since all the fabrics are hand-printed, they’re all slightly different and therefore one-of-a-kind. Innovation is key: we constantly develop new designs, ink types and printing techniques. When you buy a Lotte Martens product, you know you’re holding a precious piece of textile, assembled with love.

Where you are based?

We live in a small street near the station and not far from the centre of Leuven, where my kids go to school. My atelier is next to my house and is close to the up-and-coming hotspots for creativity in Leuven. My parents, sisters and their families all live in Leuven too. My neighbours are my second family.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven is a young and lively city, with more than 40,000 students. It’s a small city with lots of greenery, but is also close to Brussels and the airport. A truly international and open city thanks to the many international students and expats residing here, it’s a safe place because there’s always people on the streets, day and night. It’s easy to get to know a lot of people too, since it’s not so big.

Tradition and modernity go hand in hand here – and that’s also what I try to attain in my work.

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

Leuven houses one of the oldest and most famous universities of Europe. We have a lot of historical buildings, but plenty of modern buildings too. Tradition and modernity go hand in hand here – and that’s also what I try to attain in my work.

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

The city doesn’t necessarily have any connection to the fashion or textile worlds. I made the conscious decision to live and work from the same place, close to my family. I did my studies in Maastricht and travelled from Leuven to Maastricht for my first job over the course of eight years. I have three kids now, so every hour is absolutely vital.

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

Until now, Leuven has been very much focused on the University and service industry. The creative sector is still very small – but thankfully, this is all changing. Flanders Design finally made its way to Leuven, and new creative hotspots are being developed. Leuven MindGate also works to stimulate the cross-over between health, high-tech and creativity.

Another pressing issue is the matter of expensive housing and facilities. In order to attract creative talents, the costs of living and housing must be made affordable.

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

Last month a client from Denmark was visiting my facilities, and I really enjoyed showing them all the historical buildings of Leuven. Apparently, their hometown didn’t really have such old architecture or heritage. I made sure to show them the University Library with the Jan Fabre installation on the square, Pope’s College, the City Hall and M-Museum.

Leuven is also famous for its beer. The notorious headquarters of AB InBev are based here, but we also have plenty of small breweries in the surroundings. Finally, there’s a long list to choose from if you’re looking for excellent food.

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

One of the seven wonders of Leuven is “the water flowing against the stream”. This miracle is related to the legend of Fiere Margriet, or Proud Margaret. According to the story, the corpse of Margriet floated upstream on the Dyle, against the flow. However, a rational explanation was provided later on: the Dyle splits into many branches, usually equipped with lock systems. Thanks to these locks, the water could very well flow upstream towards the Oratoriënhof cultural centre. As a textile designer, I myself often flow upstream.