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.
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.