Brussels | The next fashion hotspot?

David Szeto's new work/show space in Brussels

David Szeto's new work/show space in Brussels

When a designer with an international, cult following of fashion insiders shifts his headquarters to Brussels, could it mean that the Belgian city better known for its frites, waffles and EU bureaucracy will be the next fashion hotspot? I sat down with Brussels’ new transplant, David Szeto, in his huge 2 story space (see above) to learn the reasons behind his move from Paris, Szeto’s long-standing home base.


Antwerp, of course, is the reigning champion of Belgian fashion, having produced the avant-garde group of designers known as the Antwerp Six, all of whom graduated from Antwerp’s famous Royal Academy of Fine Arts. More recently, the school has gained recognition for nurturing designers like Bruno Pieters, Kris van Assche and Haider Ackerman. But, if David’s recent move is anything to go by, then maybe we’ll be talking about the Brussels Six as well someday.

Fashion talent watchers have always kept a close eye on London, which in recent years has produced the likes of Christopher Kane, Marios Schwab and Giles Deacon, all of whom come from Central St Martins, the prestigious fashion school. London is a city with unmatched energy and cultural diversity, but upon graduation, many London-based designers find that London is also a very tough place from which to run a fashion business.


 

With limited access to local manufacturing, London-based designers find themselves rushing back and forth to the Continent in order to manage production. They also complain of  high costs – space is expensive and difficult to find. And, to top it all off, even if they show in London, designers must still take their collections to Paris for sales because many stockists do not include London on their buying trips.

 

Paris also poses its own challenges as a base for for emerging talent. While it is arguably the world’s most important fashion capital (that’s what The Economist thinks anyway),  it can be a nightmare for entrepreneurs to navigate. It’s hard to hire (and fire) employees and getting around the labyrinthine French bureaucracy is daunting, to say the least. Getting a slot on the official Paris schedule is almost impossible, what with all of the big brand heavyweights who are not going anywhere soon.

 

David_szeto_003_3 Brussels, on the other hand, seems to have the raw materials to be a new haven for emerging talent.  Rents in Brussels are much lower than those in Paris or London. And, Brussels is within easy reach of top-quality manufacturing in France and less than 2 easy hours away by train from fashion centres like London and Paris.


But, it’s not just practical reasons that drew David to Brussels. “Something about Brussels reminds me of how I felt when I arrived in London many years ago,” he told me.

 


Could this be the start of a bona fide fashion movement?

 


Autumn/Winter 07/08 image courtesy of David Szeto.

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11 comments

  1. Very true. I was in Brussels, this year and last and the fashion is very avant garde, the layout of the stores is superb. Its a small city and is relatively easy to navigate. There is a new, fresh, edgy, sense to Belgian designers. Even the guys asking me to spare a dime knew what label I was wearing and I wasn’t wearing it on the outside.:)

  2. Well it’s nice the Economist had something to say about fashion.

    Anjo from Stanford, CA, United States
  3. One move does not a movement make! I wondered the same thing about Berlin when Hedi started raving about it. I haven’t been to Brussles in a while, but if there is a movement happening I’d like to know who else/what else is part of it. To make a fashion capital you have to also have inspiration for the designers. When I went Brussles was the fashion equal of a Washington, D.C.

    Lauren from Salamanca, Castille and León, Spain
  4. I spend a lot of time in Antwerp and I think Brussels still has a long way to go before it becomes the next big thing. It definitely does not have the design city feel of Antwerp. The stores in Brussels’ trendy Bourse district are mostly outposts of Antwerp stores (Houben, Annemia Verbeke etc etc) or else sell Antwerp designers (Stijl). Although it’s interesting that Brussels is where Belgium’s only standalone Margiela store is located… (Imran – I’d love to see a post on the recent WWD article about Margiela’s expansion plans under Diesel ownership)

    Caricouture from Galway, Galway, Ireland
  5. An interesting article…. Brussels also boasts the La Cambre school which has produced a lot of talent like Cathy Pill, Sandrina Fasoli (winner of the Mango Prize) and also people who work in houses like Lanvin, Martin Margiela, Chanel, etc….

  6. Dear Imran, Your post on Brussels prompted this feed back. In addition to Brussels, Antwerp has been the place to shop for fashion ( love Dries van Noten) and is luring fashion makers from the Netherlands. Cheap retail space and manufacturing facilities “sur place”. Another hot spot for fashion in “old Europe” is definitely Amsterdam and Holland. Dutch fashion is not just Victor and Rolf, there are scores of other very interesting, conceptual and not, designers. Bas Costers, Jan Taminiau, Percy Irasquin, Corne Gabriels, Mada van Gaans. They are all graduates of the Fashion Institute Arnhem, a one year master programme that gives the designers the knowledge and the practical skills to become businesses. While the Dutch Fashion Foundation http://www.dutchfashionfoundation.com has been hard at work to put Dutch fashion on the international map with the Dutch Touch campaign in Paris and Orange Alert in New York, Amsterdam fashion week has provided an excellent platform for showcase and since 2000 has become one to the coolest events for those in the now. It was launched by Steve te Pas, one of a new breed of Dutch entrepreneurs, also the man behind the Blue Blood brand, a denim brand with a cult following. Last year the Foundation launched Dutch Fashion Awards to crown a designer with the international breakthrough potential. The international jury composition was quite impressive including the likes of Maria Louisa and a lady from Floriane de Saint Pierre. As a diplomatic wife who like a Decembrist follows her husband to the far flung corners of the fashion world, I used to indulge in shopping therapy during my summer holidays in Europe, mainly in France. Not anymore. Stefan Kelian is defunct. Kate Moss is pushing Longchamps and YSL, quelle horreur! So there is only Lancel left. And Free Lance. I do my shopping in Holland. The shops are generally beautifully designed and there are exciting things on offer. Though in the service department the dutch still have a long way to go. I try not to miss the Prelude, the fashion shows by the designers of the fashion foundation. Not only are the shows great with original production and very fine-tuned styling, the atmosphere is “bon enfant” , no hype and hysteria like in some other places. To sum it all up– it is in Holland and not in France where I get my much needed dose of visual and design stimulation. And the magazines!!! Fantastic Man, which I am glad you mentioned in one of your post. There is Blend http://www.blend.nl with great photography and styling and more Dutch fashion is undoubtedly worth watching. Again, thank you for the blog, Imran

    Bosscher from London, London, United Kingdom
  7. earl turner designer from jamaica dont know much about ur fashion could u informe me more my email address i s biggy_designs @yahoo . com

    earl turner from Portmore, Saint Catherine, Jamaica
  8. SORRY BUT I CAN T SEE ANY CHIC OR TRENDY MOVEMENT IN BRUSSELS SINCE I HAVE MOVED THERE FROM PARIS::: IT S BEEN NOW HALF A YEAR SINCE I CAME TO BRUSSELS AND I LIVE IN ONE OF THE BEST ADRESSES; BUT WHAT I SEE ON THE STREETS OR IN THE STORES IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN IN PARIS: I WISH THAT BRUSSELS WOULD BE MORE INTERESTED IN FASHION; THE PEOPLE ARE NOT EVEN BEAUTIFUL; FOR ME IT WAS FROM THE BEGINING VERY DEPRESSING AND STILL IS:: SO THAT I THINK THAT IT S MUCH BETTER IN GERMANY::: GOOD LUCK BRUSSELS

    MARINA from Germany