Here’s the story of Gabrielle, a German interior designer who discovered Belgium in the 1980s, working as a scenographer at federal opera house La Monnaie, before opening a store where she turned a hobby into a profession: transforming and selling ancient clothes to both particulars and professionals.
When Gabrielle left the world of theatre to open her own shop on the edge of the Dansaert area, she was charmed by the remnants of the medieval city walls, the turn-of-the-century architecture, and the fashionista avant-garde spirit of this neighbourhood, right next to the city centre. Some thirty years later, she’s still running her business and has seen her street and its surroundings evolve to become a lively and marvellous ambassador of Brussels’ commercial assets.
For Gabrielle, Brussels is the ideal city for such a business: its people are diverse and very open to new ideas and trends, and don’t have a stereotypical sense of fashion. This is good for business when you sell clothes ranging from the early 20th century to the 1980s. But it was also interesting because artistic and cultural activities are striving in the capital, and these always need people to dress in manners not seen on the last cover of Cosmo: be it cinema and theatre producers, photographs, street performers or fashion designers, people come from all over Europe, and even from China, to find clothes that are going to make their productions more unique and genuine.
When mentioning Brussels’ advantages as a city to hold shop in, ‘humane’ is an adjective that’s central to Gabrielle’s arguments. ‘The people here are cool,’ she says, ‘which is quite relaxing when you think of other European capitals, where one can easily feel overwhelmed by the buzzing of people eager to literally walk over one another just to cross the street or hail a cab’. But the size of the city is also more humane, according to Gabrielle, who loves being able to walk from her home in Saint-Gilles to her rue des Chartreux shop when the weather is kind enough (which happens more often than one would think).
And as foreigners seem to be more aware of than in the past, Brussels is not just an open-air museum coupled to a European bureaucracy powerhouse: tourists show increasingly more interest for Brussels’ people and stores.
The many renovations that have taken place in the last decade also play in favour of the capital’s reputation. ‘Molenbeek, even despite the recent events, is full of promises. Its many abandoned factories hold so much architectural value that they are the key to its development.’ When meeting with her German friends who’ve never set foot in Brussels, she often tells them to ‘forget their prejudice and allow themselves to discover Brussels’ many charming facets’, which will be rewarded by unexpected treasures. And sure enough, those among her friends who make that bet were never ever disappointed…