A New Nation in a Hidden Gem
If you're in Antwerp for a visit or just moved into town you might not have heard about De Nieuwe Gaanderij in the heart of Antwerp city. Trust me when I say it might be the true hidden gem in shopping you’ve been waiting for. Right in the middle of Antwerp’s Quartier Latin and De Wilde Zee is the Nieuwe Gaanderij, a shopping center with an incredible history and a very bright future
Let me kick off with some history. De Nieuwe Gaanderij is Belgium’s oldest shopping center, built in 1952 by Jean-Florian Collin and open to the public since 1954. It’s a shopping center but also a short-cut passage between Antwerp’s famous shopping haven Huidevettersstraat, the upscale Schuttershofstraat which carries names like Hérmes, Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld and the Korte Gasthuisstraat, home to younger high street brands like &Other Stories, COS and Scotch & Soda. The iconic Meir and Nationalestraat are right around the corner, which makes the shopping gallery the ideal spot for something slightly different.
De Nieuwe Gaanderij
The shopping center has been a breeding ground for more exclusive fashion, cosmetics, accessories and food since the fifties, but truly began to make it’s mark in the seventies, eighties and nineties. Get ready for some impressive namedropping! Godelieve Bols opened “The Poor Millionaire” in the gallery in 1976, a store that was dubbed as Belgium’s answer to London’s legendary Biba store. Extravagance was the norm. As a result of the Parisian boutique-like quality of the stores, fashion risk takers quickly moved in after.
A young Dries Van Noten, now an internationally praised designer opened up his first (small) boutique in the gallery. So did designers Dirk Bikkembergs and Dirk Van Saene with his “Beauties & Heroes” boutique. Shoe concept store Cocodrillo opened up and soon after, a young Martin Margiela stood inside the store asking if they would carry his shoe line. Exclusive cosmetics brand Shu Uemura opened up inside the gallery, while fashion house Kenzo found a home a couple doors down. Before or after opening hours all of these incredible creatives would get together in Luculus, an Italian coffee bar and bistro inside the gallery. Can you imagine a fairly unknown Dries Van Noten sipping from his cappuccino while a young Walter Van Beirendonck is picking out Margiela shoes? Amazing, right? Antwerp fashion heydays!
The New Nation / De Nieuwe Natie
The Shu Uemura beauty boutique is the only store from that era that is still standing today, all of the other boutiques, designers and brands have relocated and many went on to have an international audience today. In 2014 the gallery brought new life into it’s infamous halls. A new nation was born!
De Nieuwe Natie (Dutch for The New Nation) is the working title for several pop-up concept stores that are showcasing their products to Antwerp shoppers from October 2014 until March 29th 2015. In these six months, several creatives, entrepreneurs and collectives are rotating between the stores to bring a new eclectic mix of food, fashion, furniture, even bikes! A bunch of new pop-up stores are launching in the following days, such as the pop-up store from the daughters of the late Kaat Tilley, a Belgian designer known for her romantic fairytale like creations. Artisanal atelier collective Collectif d'Anvers is showcasing in the gallery until the end of this month and kids label’s Ukkies Undies and Ine De Haes are opening up in February.
I spoke to Katrien Smets, one of the young entrepreneurs who's pop-up shop just opened up. In the cozy little boutique, she sells clothes from her label Pas N’importe Quoi (P.N.Q. for short), designer furniture by Art Design Gallery Michael and jewelry by Sara Esther. P.N.Q. focus on ecological and biological fashion, an answer to todays drive-thru approach by many high street brands. On top of all of this goodness, Katrien is teaching relaxation and meditation courses in the space above her boutique and the first lesson is free. Sounds like a good deal to me! Get relaxed and leave with a socially and economically responsible bio-cotton sweater that is also beautiful and totally comfy. The addition of Katrien's label to the New Nation project was a last-minute decision, and she's only staying a month, but she wouldn't miss it for the world. “I used to come here as a little girl. I love the gallery's history and I bought my first ever lipstick in the Shu Uemura boutique, right across from my own boutique now!”
Best Kept Secret
De Nieuwe Gaanderij might be Antwerp’s best-kept shopping secret, but since you are now in the know, don’t hesitate to go down there and take a look. Special offers, openings and shopping days take place every couple weeks. Visit denieuwenatie.be for a full list of stores, back stories and more.
Text by Laurent James - antwerptrill.com
Pics by Laurent James and WNE