Jan-Jan Van Essche
The city is filled with creative people, finding their own way to fulfil their dreams. It`s impressive.
Why is Antwerp a leading fashion city?
"Everything that’s going on in Antwerp, especially within the fashion industry, tends to be trendsetting. The Fashion Academy and MoMu serve as focal points. The city is filled with creative people, finding their own way to fulfil their dreams. It`s impressive. I felt that Antwerp needed more alternative stores, so my partner Piëtro Celestina and I launched our own boutique, Atelier Solarshop. There is room for more in Antwerp!"
How does Antwerp inspire you?
"In the past I was inspired by my travels. Travelling makes you receptive towards external influences, everything seems to be so fresh and new. Over the last few years, I didn’t travel as much of course, so I thought deeply about my own city and its locals. Our boutique is located not to far from the Central Station, which is a huge advantage. All I need to do is glimpse trough the window to see the world passing by. All the colours, all clothing styles and all the possible combinations. It’s amazing."
Why Antwerp, rather than other fashion centres?
"First and foremost, I am a product of the Antwerp Fashion Academy. It’s possible I wouldn’t even have started within the fashion industry without the stories and the context that these studies instilled in me. Of course my network, family and friends also live here in Antwerp. Plus, this city is easy when it comes to work. It’s centrally located, not too overwhelming and you can easily get out of the city and into nature. Everything I need is here."
You’re known as a designer who is doing his own thing, regardless of trends. Is that what characterises Antwerp?
"I do recognise this characteristic among Antwerp’s designers. That’s what connects us. I try not to follow trends. I find it very important to stay as close as possible to my own values and beliefs. This is my tip for upcoming designers: you can’t be caught in a lie if you’re honest. You need to surround yourself with others who share a vision, because you can’t do this on your own. I also recommend having your own boutique. It’s hugely important to be in direct contact with consumers. On top of that, you’re in control of the entire process."
You work with people like Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui for Opera Ballet Flanders. Tell us about this collaboration.
"It’s a very nice bonus of my job. We both work with human bodies, in essence. To me fashion is not static. On the contrary, it’s dynamic. Movement is very important. It’s such a wonderful gift to see dancers perform in my creations. It’s an honour to work with Sidi Larbi. I admire him endlessly. The fact that he puts his trust in me is amazing."
What do foreign entrepreneurs need to know if they want to do business in Antwerp?
"The Belgian culture dislikes confrontation. It also helps to create an informal atmosphere. I often invite my guests over to my house to cook for them. That’s how great conversations start. Also don’t forget that what you see is what you get here in Antwerp. When it starts becoming fake, we drop out. We have very good bullshit-detectors. Just be yourself and everything will be fine."