Antwerp Super-Concept Shops - A Little of Everything You Love
As Antwerp, Belgium continues to make its name in the fashion and art scenes, "super-concept" stores have emerged. These stores include everything from art galleries to organic cafes, vintage shopping and a selection of wares to wear from various designers. Basically, they're like smaller, hipstery versions of department stores -- and they're a lot more fabulous to be spotted in.
One of these spaces I visited was Ra, at Kloosterstraat 13. Ra has an 800 square meter space with an internet cafe, a bookshop reminiscent of what you'd find in a museum, an open art installation space with the latest exhibition, a kitchen serving a full menu of healthy food (the kind I like to call "aggressively healthy," like carrot soups and tofu), some antiques and two floors of carefully curated designer clothing, shoes, jewelry and other accessories, including some one-of-a-kind pieces from emerging designers. Catching on? Super-concept shops accommodate pretty much everything people of certain lifestyles want. They're one-stop-shops for their target demographic; and the kind of place you could spend a whole Saturday without getting bored.
Another super-concept venue I visited was Hospital, a scrap metal dealer's warehouse-turned-boutique. They have an art space, fabulous clothing for sale and a restored vintage car -- also for sale. I dined at the adjoining restaurant and wine bar The Glorious, which was glorious (see gallery for mouth-watering pictures), and mingled with a completely different crowd from the Ra-goers (Hospital is a posher, deliciously more pretentious scene).
Obviously, this idea is brilliant.
Gallery: Super-Concept Stores in Antwerp
Sometimes, you visit a museum or restaurant you particularly love and wish you could have a souvenir -- but all that's available is an ugly t-shirt you might wear to the gym, and maybe a mug. Super-concept stores solve this problem. Conversely, sometimes you're shopping for independent labels and you get hungry, but all they have to offer is espresso, or they direct you to a cafe down the street, totally cramping your momentum. Not here.
Super-concept stores in Antwerp are especially ingenious because, unlike department stores, they make no effort to please everyone. Each has its own distinct flavor and "kind of person" to whom they cater. Saying you like to hang out at Ra makes a statement about who you are. This is what lifestyle brands have been trying to accomplish on a mass-market level for years; perfectly achieved on a smaller, indie scale.
My visit to Antwerp was sponsored by Tourism Antwerp and Cool Capitals, but the opinions expressed in the article are 100% my own.