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The Belgian Designers Making Candy-Colored Furniture in Their Backyard

Though now partners in work and life, Jef De Brabander and Kathleen Opdenacker of the Antwerp-based Nortstudio arrived at where they are via two very different paths: He’s an industrial engineer, she’s a graphic designer. No wonder, then, that the work they’ve produced since joining forces in 2016 has exhibited such a symbiotic relationship between color and form.
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Harvey Bouterse Ceramic Artist Antwerp

The Antwerp-Based Artist Making Sculptures in an Abandoned Ceramics Factory

Ceramic artist Harvey Bouterse had never touched a lump of clay before he walked through the doors of the Antwerp-based porcelain company, Perignem, eight years ago. “I had been collecting their pieces for a number of years,” the Surinam-born, Dutch-trained designer explains, “and wanted to have a piece signed, so I looked up their office and stopped by.” What he found was a ceramics factory — almost entirely out of use — with an atelier and workshop stocked to the brim with glazes and clay dating back to the 1950s. He's been working there ever since.
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Greenterior botanical decor

A New Book Features the Botanical Decor of Your Dreams

File this one under "why didn't we think of it first?" This fall, Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen of the Belgian online magazine Coffeeklatch — a destination for lovely interviews and photography that's been on our must-read list for years — released a book called Greenterior, which looks at the homes of designers and artists through the lens of their abundant houseplants.
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Stephanie Specht, Graphic Designer

People always ask where exactly we find our story subjects, and for the past two years, the most frequent answer has invariably been Instagram. And it’s true, in the case of Belgian-born graphic designer Stephanie Specht, we were fans of her @spechtstudio handle long before we ever knew who was behind it. But our interest was piqued even further in recent months after Specht got the imprimatur from two friends with an impeccable knack for collaborations: Sandeep Salter of McNally Jackson Picture Room, where Specht released an edition earlier this year, and Alex Proba, with whom Specht created this series of plant-inspired posters. 
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The Game’s New Online Shop

With Labor Day around the corner (we'll be taking off this Monday, along with the rest of America) we're allowing ourselves to get just a tiny bit excited about the impending fall. Sweaters, the color navy, and the smell of burning leaves are right up there among our favorite things. Fall is also the time when we stop spending our waking hours wondering when we can next get to the beach and start spending them a bit more inside on the computer, shopping for knickknacks that will make the homes we're about to spend a whole lot more time in even cozier. Our newest destination is The Game, a brand new shop that exists both online and in two Belgian outposts, founded and curated by Alexis Ryngaert, who's also behind of one of our all-time favorite design galleries, Victor Hunt.
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A rack full of Dries van Noten clothing waiting to be registered into MoMu’s digital cataloging system, which keeps track of the nearly 5,000 contemporary and 20,000 historical pieces in the museum’s collection. MoMu was originally based on the contents of a former textile museum in Vrieselhof, Belgium; when Antwerp inherited those items, it decided to parlay them into a fashion museum in 2001. “We retained everything from the old textile museum,” says Wim Mertens, a curator at the museum who specializes in historical dress. “We have floral tapestries which have nothing to do with a fashion museum, but it's an inheritance, and also napkins, tablecloths, bedspreads — you name it in textiles, and we have it.”

Antwerp’s Mode Museum

If Antwerp’s Mode Museum (MoMu) is desperately seeking a second storage space for its growing permanent collection, at least part of the blame falls on Bernard Willhelm. He may donate his designs each season alongside the likes of Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela, and his onetime mentor Walter van Beirendonck, but inside the museum’s existing archive rooms — which Sight Unseen had the exclusive privilege of touring earlier this year — it’s Willhelm who clearly holds the record for overflowing racks. In fact, MoMu’s curation team rarely turns down a donation from a legitimate source, whether for the historical collection it originally inherited from an old provincial textile museum or for its cache of contemporary fashions by talents born or educated in Antwerp, but Willhelm’s contributions are so generous that the day we visited, there were clothes waiting to be graciously returned to his showroom. It’s not difficult to understand the designer’s enthusiasm, though, or that of his peers: The MoMu’s prestige in Europe far exceeds its diminutive size, and since it opened a decade ago, it’s become the largest repository in the world for contemporary Belgian fashion.
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Irene Alvarez, Artist

Antwerp’s Irene Alvarez was a sculptor and recent Royal Academy art grad when she got the call from the cult concept shop Ra — the city’s version of Opening Ceremony — asking her to design a custom installation. But it was the far less glamorous moment that came next that has since marked a pivotal moment in her nascent career: She discovered the Netherlands' Textile Museum Tilburg, which is not only a museum but also an experimental production lab where creatives can apply for technical assistance on machines capable of knitting, embroidering, lasering, printing, tufting, dyeing, and weaving almost anything the mind can conceive. Despite having no previous experience with textiles, she collaborated with the museum on the half-woven Inti Altar sculpture that’s held court on Ra’s second floor for the last two years, and she’s been addicted to the furry medium ever since. Today marks the opening of her first solo show, at Belgium’s other hallowed retail emporium, Hunting and Collecting, and it demonstrates just how far Alvarez has come in her obsession with knits — it contains no traditional sculpture at all, only a textile teepee (above), a line of t-shirts, and a series of three tapestries woven with a psychedelic clash of pop-culture icons and op-art patterning. Sight Unseen recently spoke with the artist about her work with the museum and the ethnic influences behind her imagery.
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A selection of looks from the spring/summer 2010 collection of Christian Wijnants, whose clothes have been called “aggressively feminine.” While he does use premade silks and wools in custom-dyed colors, he designs all his own prints and knits at his Antwerp studio before having them produced in Belgium, Italy, and Holland. “I was just at the fabric fair in Paris, and I saw some things that I liked, but at the end I had the impression that in the last few years the producers are experimenting less,” he says. “It was a bit like what you see every season. Personalization is a big part of what we do.”

Christian Wijnants, Fashion Designer

Christian Wijnants attended the fashion program at Antwerp’s prestigious Royal Academy, and upon graduating, won the Hyéres prize, the Dries Van Noten prize, and a coveted assistant spot in Van Noten’s atelier. Then, two years after starting his own line in 2003, he banked 100,000 euros as the winner of the Swiss Textile Award, beating out Giles Deacon and Charles Anastase. “I never thought I would even be nominated,” Wijnants told i-D magazine at the time, before proceeding to watch his collection trickle into all of the world’s most respected boutiques and department stores. He was just being modest, of course — the man has unmistakable talent, especially when it comes to his imaginative textiles and knits — but there is something surprising about his success, when you think about it: In a country whose fashion scene skews towards all things experimental, nonconformist, androgynous, and/or dark, the cherub-faced designer is known for both his colorful, feminine aesthetic and his charming geniality. He’s almost too perfect to be cool.
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The jewelry’s intricacy stems from Tanudiredja’s aesthetic preoccupation with volume: “I don’t like just normal flat designs — I like the three-dimensional,” he says. “I look at what materials would go nicely together, and how we can build it up so it’s standing. That’s the way I work: I usually look at the material first. It’s the same with clothing. I look at the fabric first.”

Heaven Tanudiredja, Jewelry Designer

Heaven Tanudiredja didn’t have a chance to tidy up the day I visited his Antwerp studio in early February, leaving his desk a maelstrom of beads, tools, and findings, punctuated by the odd Marlboro package. “Cigarettes and Red Bull — this is the real me,” he joked, apologizing for the mess. But to the uninitiated visitor, of course, it was a fascinating sight, a glimpse at the primordial soup that would soon be transformed into Tanudiredja’s ever-more-elaborate fall jewelry collection, which he’ll show this week in Paris. Because everything is made by hand in the studio, his desk is actually a production hub; with his line Heaven now in its ninth season, and his elaborate bead-encrusted necklaces selling for $5,000 at the likes of Barneys New York, Tanudiredja and his three-person team are responsible for churning out upwards of 300 pieces every six months, each of which takes 48 hours of exacting beadwork to construct. Hence the stimulants — not to mention the thick-rimmed glasses he has to wear while working as a consequence of his failing eyesight.
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"I have always been interested in fashion," Verschueren says. "My parents were both linguists, and they organized congresses all over the world — Mexico, China, South Africa, Australia. My brother and sister and I would go with them, and it was fascinating to see different ethnicities through the lens of fashion."

Alexandra Verschueren, Fashion Designer

At 22, Alexandra Verschueren has interned for Preen, Proenza Schouler, and Derek Lam. She’s been honored by a jury that included former Rochas creative director Olivier Theyskens and the International Herald Tribune’s fashion critic Suzy Menkes. And in the last six months, her graduate collection Medium has been fêted by Wallpaper magazine and the Mode Museum in her hometown of Antwerp. So why, when she applied to that city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts straight out of high school, did no one expect she’d get in?
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