Brussels. Home to renowned Belgian chocolate, barrels of beer, and a little thing called European politics. With foreigners making up nearly 70% of its population, Brussels’ cultural and artistic diversity does not go unnoticed; the city embraces its status as a podium for innovative ideas with a heavy emphasis on individuality. With this in mind, Brussels’ fashion scene finds itself pulsing for recognition, ready to pounce on the international stage at any moment with a firm desire to cement itself upon the fashion map. Within this cultural cauldron is some material magic – and it’s been brewing a while. Words – Chiara Thomas
Being the capital of the European Union, Brussels offers its heart and soul to the continent in more ways than one. For instance, in February of this year, the Vice President of the European Commission, Antonio Tajani, heightened the concentration of fashion discourse in the Belgian capital like never before. In his true native-Italian style, Tajani interweaved Brussels’ political scene with that of European fashion, raising the idea that the reinforcement of growth and competitiveness of the European fashion industries be the key to a successful future for European industry as a whole – after all, Europe’s fashion and high-end industries account for 10% of European exports, thus making them global leaders.
Tajani’s intensification of the fashion subject within his political commitments was voiced before an array of CEOs of fashion and high-end industries including Harrods, Chanel and LVMH. In declaring Brussels open to all things fashion, dressed in a sharp Italian-tailored suit and navy blue Marinella tie from the comfort of his chic office on the twelfth floor of the Berlaymont building at the European Commission headquarters, Tajani’s invitation to the European fashion market to accept Brussels as an aid to its future has made Brussels a fashion term worth mentioning. Not only is it currently common to rub shoulders with European designers such as Spain’s Agatha Ruiz de la Prada and Italy’s Paolo Zegna along the corridors of the Berlaymont, but 2013 has given the Belgian capital and its talent the push they need to rise amongst neighbouring fashion superpowers, London and Paris. For the first time, fashion lenses across the continent are zooming in on Brussels with a curious eye; it is very difficult to transform politics into a chic affair – but it appears that Brussels has smashed it. Although the Belgian capital may not boast the historical style files of its geographical neighbours in the form of figures such as Marie Antoinette or Queen Elizabeth I, Brussels does hold a secret style weapon in the form of local girl and international style icon, Audrey Hepburn. Known best for influencing the incorporation of Wayfarer sunglasses, white pearls and the little black dress into the wardrobes of women across the globe during the 1950s and beyond, Hepburn was in fact born and raised in Brussels during early childhood. It goes sans dire, therefore, that the Hepburn heritage of Brussels’ fashion scene boasts potential for the future. What really makes Flanders fashion stand out today, however, is the genuine universal drive to be different. Belgium’s young designers are realists; they are perfectly aware that they are not in the running to becoming the next iconic Yves Saint Laurent or Coco Chanel fashion house – but they do want the world to enjoy and indulge in the carnival of avant-garde creations that they showcase along the way to being the best they can be. It is the profound modesty in the aura of Belgian designers and their collections that makes them that much more appreciable and that much more respectable. One of Belgium’s most famous examples is Dries Van Noten, a
Flemish designer who owns five stores worldwide, but does not advertise the brand. With this in mind, Van Noten’s rich, imaginative and eccentric designs have led to him being hailed as “one of fashion’s most cerebral designers” by the New York Times, as well as winning the International Award of the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2008, and dressing Hollywood royalty in the form of Cate Blanchett for the Academy Awards in that same year. Furthermore, international super house, Christian Dior, also benefits from a sprinkle of sought-after Belgian talent in the form of Raf Simons – the brand’s recently-appointed general Creative Director hailing from Flanders – and Kris Van Assche, yet another Belgian designer appointed as Creative Director of the Dior Homme collections, specifically. With this much Belgian blood running through the veins of the international fashion industry, creative minds the world over are curious as to what more the heart of Europe has to offer. (Below right: Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Lawrence in Raf Simons for Dior). In terms of Belgium’s emerging talent, up-and-coming designers hoping to clasp just an element of Van Noten’s success benefit from a vast array of support systems offered by the city of Brussels in order to enhance the fashion presence within the metropolis. On the whole, Brussels offers one of the most promising of European platforms for nascent labels. Boasting one of Europe’s most competitive and respected design institutions in La Cambre fashion school, the city invests in the annual promotion of emerging Belgian brands through exhibitions, workshops and regular catwalk shows. One example of which is Madifesto, the first festival dedicated to the fashion industry in Belgium offering showrooms and presentations, as well as welcoming the presence of important figures in the francophone fashion world such as Didier Grumbach, the President of the French Federation of Couture. The ten-day festival organised by Mad Brussels – the city’s own organisation catering specifically to the development of Brussels on the
international fashion map – hopes to become, over time, a highlight event on the wider fashion agenda, turning Brussels into “a centre for fashion in Europe.” This June brought Madifesto’s highlight event in the La Cambre graduate show sponsored once again by the previously-mentioned Belgian talent enthusiast, Christian Dior. The event boasted big potential for the future of fashion sourced from Brussels with this year’s one to watch being Anaïs Lalu (below images), a fifth-year La Cambre student whose mastery of the rich jewel-fabric relationship demonstrated in her new collection is predicted to catapult onto the international stage within the next few years. Undeniably, Brussels has got talent – and 2013 is here to prove it. Brussels demonstrates quality over quantity like very few other European cities trying their luck at the highly-competetive fashion industry, holding such solid foundations in cities such as London, Paris and Milan. With a portion of high-quality talent, a dose of investment and a sprinkle of recognition, Brussels has all the ingredients to become an effective fashion capital. To quote Tajani: “Brussels is open for business”. And that business is fashion.