A.F. Vandevorst Revive Antwerp With Guerilla Store, Clinical Approach
The invitation looked like a political manifesto, circa 1930. “A.F. Vandevorst invite you to the opening of their Aktion I Guerrilla store on December 17 at 20:00 in Antwerp, Belgium at Indiëstraat 8.” The “project,” as it was called in the communiqué, is “to create a space in which people can “fall into the world of A.F. Vandevorst; such a world that includes fashion and more.” Ah this sounded a helluva lot more fresh than one more launch of another handbag bag on avenue Montaigne; so I grabbed the bait.
The distance from Paris to Antwerp is just under two hours by Thalys bullet train, but the first winter snow hit both unprepared cities yesterday morning, hindering our progress. In spite of the short distance, visiting Antwerp is like making a far-off trip to grandma’s house: old-fashioned and gingerbread gezellig (Dutch for gemutlich), a particularly European mix of kitsch and cozy.
A.F. Vandevorst is really among the last of the Mohicans when it comes to independent European design. An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx were on their first day as fashion students at Antwerp’s Royal Academy when they met in 1987, fell in love, and eventually became husband and wife. 10 years later they opened their own company and have been showing seasonally in Paris ever since. Their style is sleek but somehow countrified, with lots of silk, fur and vintage lingerie bits. The shoes under the Fetish label are particularly great; An Vandevorst cut her creative teeth early on as shoe and accessories designer for fellow Antwerpian Dries Van Noten.
Nobody among the small group of curious journalists from Paris was really sure why we’d been invited to visit the ephemeral store. When we arrived last night the party was already in full swing and commercial concerns had fallen sway to an ad-hoc Antwerp creative reunion. The store was packed with the town’s creative crew including designers Van Noten, Bruno Pieters and Christian Wijnants.
Vandevorst and Arickx’s projects are extensive. In 2005 they created costumes for the Susan Sontag play “Alice in Bed,” and for MoMu, Antwerp’s fashion museum, the couple curated the exhibition “Katharina Prospekt,” a show of Russian cultural artifacts borrowed from Moscow’s state historical museum including propaganda, military style, constructivism, fur and chess.
A.F.’s logo is a Red Cross outline and one of their first shows in Paris featured a room of mid-century hospital beds with models sliding out of bed to show off the collection. The medical decor has followed them ever since and this temporary store, with its for-rent sign still out front, was full of tidy sick beds to display the brand’s Joseph Beuys felt tailoring, silky underwear and patterned ski-style sweaters. “We found this place and we could be gone in 15 days if a renter turns up,” says Arickx, himself dressed in a Soviet era military suit. In any case A.F. Vandevorst will move on in three months with the Aktion II shop probably going next to nearby Brussels.
For opening night, an impromptu kitchen was set up in a tent outside the store to serve soup and mulled wine. And while they waited to enter, guests warmed themselves around small trashcan fires. Vandevorst and Arickx left pretty much everything else in the store as is besides putting down hospital linoleum. And then they became interested in fixtures. “A friend brought in a card rack, so we took it and made a collection of postcards to sell in it,” said Vandevorst. They then added a dumpster where customers can deposit worn out, but well loved clothes. “We’re going to take a look at what’s in there and duplicate the best pieces. Those who brought the clothes we choose to make will each get a piece so it’s sort of like an exchange, ” she says. “What we like about this is the flexibility,” adds Arickx, we don’t want to open just another passive shop.”
Parallel to their guerrilla retailing, A.F. Vandevorst is launching a new collection for spring called A. Friend. The jersey pieces, priced 30 to 40% less than the main line, are not in the store yet, but are expected soon. “We got the idea when so many of our friends told us they couldn’t afford our clothes,” explains Vandevorst. “We took what they said to heart and asked them to come in and give ideas and try on styles to come up with A. Friend. It was an exhausting process and the result is slightly unisex.”