It may not be Milan, but Brussels is teeming with creative talent. The city’s relaxed cosmopolitan mood attracts fashion designers, street photographers, brewing startups and small independent shops. But it can sometimes be tricky to track down the city’s creative addresses. Some can be a bit hidden in the city. And others are open odd hours. Many people consequently end up missing out on a very unique offering.
The tourist office has recently been making it easier to go shopping in Brussels by putting up signs directing people to fashionable shopping districts such as Louise, Sablon and Marolles. The rules on opening hours have also been relaxed to allow small shops to open on the first Sunday of the month. And a free shuttle bus runs on Sunday Shopping Days to link up the different districts.
Here are four urban districts to wander around in search of the latest trends in Brussels.
Downtown shops on Rue Dansaert have launched a campaign called Discover Dansaert to boost the image of the fashion quarter. Following the terrorist attacks earlier this year, they suffered a drop in business. But the district’s creative shopkeepers have come up with ideas to get people back to the downtown district, including floral displays in shop windows and open days.
This tiny downtown shop is dedicated to works by Belgian designers. You find delicate jewellery by LoboGato, handmade leather wallets and original photographs, along with stunning wallpaper and notebooks by the Brussels designer Alexia de Ville.
Rue de Flandre 53, Central Brussels
+32 (0)492 76 22 74, www.bel-arte.be
HUNTING & COLLECTING
Niels Radtke and Aude Gribomont started a trend in Brussels when they opened their concept store in early 2010. “Where no store has gone before,” their logo claims. They spend their days hunting out eclectic and edgy clothes, along with art books and design objects. They also exhibit art, publish a magazine and host occasional events.
Rue des Chartreux 17, Central Brussels
Tel 02 512 74 77, www.huntingandcollecting.com
Belgian design gallery dealer Alexis Ryngaert seeks out emerging design talent to showcase in his smart downtown shop. He displays small, affordable objects in a space that resembles an urban apartment, complete with a table set for dinner. Look out for quirky pieces by Brussels designers Sylvain Willenz and Maarten De Ceulaer.
Boulevard Anspach 123, Central Brussels
+32 (0)2 503 44 18, www.the-game-online.com
The stylish district around Place du Châtelain in Ixelles is dotted with little shops selling clothes, vintage design, art books and organic wine. It’s a relaxed neighbourhood to wander around, with secret parks, quiet squares and stunning Art Nouveau houses.
The inspiring concept store Lulu opened recently in a vast industrial space near the Châtelain district. It’s hidden down a narrow lane where a few metal café tables are set out for brunch. The airy white interior is filled with new and vintage furniture by Nordic and Italian designers. Perfect for furnishing a loft space in Saint Gilles. You can also sit down for a coffee or a sandwich in a café with bare brick walls, vintage armchairs and kitsch ornaments.
Rue du Page 101, Ixelles
+32 (0)2 537 25 03, www.lulustore.eu
This beautiful art bookshop stands in the shadow of an old baroque church. It was recently decluttered to create an airy modern store dedicated to gorgeous books on art, architecture and fashion. It also stocks international art magazines that are hard to find anywhere else in Brussels. And the website is a visual delight.
Rue du Tabellion 10, Ixelles
+32 (0)2 537 11 05, www.peinture-fraiche.be
The Marolles district is famous for its flea market and antique stores. But take a closer look and you see some interesting new shops have opened up, including vintage boutiques, design shops and stylish brunch spots.
BELGE UNE FOIS
Two young graphic designers from Brussels recently opened a crowdfunded concept store in the heart of the Marolles where they sell quirky objects with a Belgian twist. The stock includes art cards, jewellery, notebooks, posters and lamps. They have also created a little Fifties-style bar at the back where you can sit down with a Belgian beer.
Rue Haute 103, Marolles
Five young Brussels designers have turned an old Marolles town house into a hub of contemporary design. They sell original jewellery, ceramics, textiles and accessories, as well as quirky objects that catch their eye. It’s the perfect place to head if you are hunting desperately for a gift from Brussels that isn’t a box of chocolates.
Rue Blaes 154, Marolles
+32 (0)471 86 30 71, www.superstrat.cool
ATELIER EN VILLE
Housed in a former factory in the Marolles, Atelier en Ville has become one of the coolest spots in town. The raw industrial space is occupied by a huge café with long wooden tables. A metal staircase leads up to two clothes stores – Garçon for men and Fille for women – located in small rooms with bare brick walls. There’s also a hidden garden at the back which is the perfect spot to meet friends on a summer day.
Rue Haute 64, Marolles
The Matongé used to be a smart shopping district before it fell into decline. But the streets around Place Saint Boniface are starting to look more interesting these days. As you wander around the streets, you find a lively mix of shops, from old hardware shops to quirky vintage stores.
An inspiring shop devoted to Belgian design run by two young architects in the Matongé district. They have tracked down some original stuff by young Belgian designers including T-shirts, bags and cards.
Rue Longue Vie 36, Ixelles
+32 (0)2 512 54 12
Established more than 20 years ago, this civilised tea room helped to revive the Boniface neighbourhood. It occupies a narrow Art Nouveau building designed by Ernest Blérot with a few small tables on the street. The owner at the last count stocked more than 230 varieties of tea, which are sold in distinctive tins. He serves his customers pots of tea, in the English style, along with slices of fruit cake.
Rue Saint Boniface 17, Ixelles
Tel 02 513 91 03, www.comptoirflorian.be