Antwerp, fashion mecca

This weekend I’m off to the Belgian city of Antwerp, historical riverport located in the northern (Flemish) region of Flanders.  I’ll be spending Christmas Eve there because I want to experience Midnight Mass in the famous Cathedral of Our Lady, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.  Here’s a brief description:

The cathedral has seven aisles and 125 pillars.  Its tower is the tallest church spire in the Low Countries.  Its impressive interior has sweeping Gothic lines and soaring vaults, all in gleaming white. The furnishings are a mix of Baroque and Neoclasssical styles. The cathedral houses four Rubens altarpieces. 

Peter Paul Rubens (28 June 1577–30 May 1640), Flemish Baroque painter, lived and worked in Antwerp.  You can view his work in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.

In 2003 I attended Midnight Mass on the 24th of December inside the famous Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the main church of Florence, Italy.  Better known as Il Duomo.  It was memorable.  And I’m neither Catholic nor a regular church-goer.  I’m looking to relive the experience.

I love old cathedrals, train travel in Europe, and art.  I also love shopping.

Travel time to Antwerp is exactly two hours from Paris and because I booked in advance, I only paid 45 euros for a First Class train ticket. The train station, called Antwerpen-Centraal, was judged by Newsweek magazine as the world’s fourth greatest train station.

But I’m not going for the train station.  I’m going primarily for the shopping.  Because Antwerp, you see, is a fashion mecca and I need some winter boots, shoes and other items.

It all started with a man named Dries van Noten.  He was part of a group of designers known in the fashion world as the Antwerp Six.  They all graduated from the fashion department of the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the early 1980’s; their unusual designs, which combine exquisite fabrics with sculptural cuts and a touch of whimsy, have been hits on Paris runways and beyond.

The success of Mr. van Noten and the other group members (Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela, to name a few) has turned their hometown into a fashion mecca. Many of the designers have flagship boutiques in Antwerp, while other shops specializing in Belgian-designed clothing and accessories draw devotees from as far as Tokyo.

And that’s basically all I can tell you at the moment because I’m not there yet!  Stay tuned for photos and commentary.

Here’s a great travel guide entitled 12 Hours in Antwerp that I’ll be using.  It also features 12 Hours in London, Vancouver, Portland, Berlin, Copenhagen and other cities.