This fall has been both busy and buzzy for the Belgian city of Antwerp. Its Royal Academy of Fine Arts is celebrating its 350th birthday, and front and center in the fête is its prestigious Fashion Department.
300 years younger than the Academy itself, the department has earned the school considerable renown, having been the formative stomping grounds of some of fashion’s most recognizable names, including Martin Margiela, Kris van Assche and the legendary Antwerp Six (Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee). In celebration—and under the direction, in fact, of Van Beirendonck, who’s returned to teach at the school—the Academy is hosting a number of exhibitions and large scale installations now up all over town, including one showcasing the works of the Academy’s most famous alumni.
At the same time, the city has just opened the Red Star Line migration museum, which pays homage to the Antwerp’s incredibly rich port history and the shipping company’s role in it. Millions of people who left Europe for the New World during the 19th and 20th century did it through Antwerp and on Red Star Line ships, including some of history’s most renowned creatives and geniuses, including Albert Einstein and Irving Berlin, whose family gifted the museum with one of Berlin’s pianos. Diane von Furstenberg, herself a Belgian immigrant, is the project’s godmother, helping to help launch the museum’s promotional campaign earlier this year and making an appearance at last month’s opening.
In the Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners-designed building (which was previously the Red Star Line’s headquarters) interactive media displays and such items as carriages and tickets tell personal stories of the migration culture. The Einstein relic currently on display is sobering: a letter the physicist wrote while on the Belgenland, one of Red Star Line’s ships, when he found out the Nazis had confiscated his Berlin home. “The Red Star Line museum tells the story of a long forgotten or long neglected history,” says Luc Verheye, the Project Coordinator for the museum. “We are hoping that these stories make people reflect on the fact that everyone is in search for a better life, and that often it’s a difficult choice to make.”
Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Mutsaardstraat 31, Antwerp
Red Star Line Museum
Montevideostraat 3, Antwerp
Planning a visit? Here’s where to….
Hotel De Witte Lelie: The 10 elegantly stylish rooms are spread across three combined 17th century canal houses, giving off a very homey vibe. Inside, it’s all about design balance as the building’s original makeup (exposed beams, marble fireplaces and massive windows) is complemented with contemporary accessories like abstract wallpaper and shag carpeting.
Hotel De Witte Lelie
DVS: Antwerp Six’s Dirk Van Saene opened his multibrand boutique DVS back in February. It’s furnished with modular interiors by Dutch furniture designer Maarten Baas. The inventory, however, is mostly avant-garde Belgian from the likes of Van Saene himself and Walter Van Beirendonck, plus Veronique Branquinho’s comeback collection.
Graanmarkt13: This chic store on Graanmarkt Square includes a lower-level restaurant with outdoor seating, popular among local fashionistas for its simple, health-conscious dishes prepared mostly with vegetables and herbs from the rooftop garden.
Vitrin: During the day, hobnob with laptop-toting creatives who come for the coffee. In the evening, this South Antwerp cafe is a happening post-work destination for a sparkling drink or two. Ask for the house specialty: a glass of cava mixed with aperol and garnished with an orange slice.