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Antwerp Adventure: a weekend in photos

For a birthday / bank holiday treat recently I headed off to the Belgian city of Antwerp. Apart from some top tips from Twitter friends, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised at this stylish, friendly and laid-back city. I hope you enjoy exploring Antwerp with me now via some of my snaps …

Central Station Antwerp

Train station meetings do not always live up to their Brief Encounter romantic expectations, however after arriving at Antwerp station from the Eurostar, I had a perfect rendezvous with my loved one. After being apart for a week, he appeared at the top of the steps in the magnificent Central Station. We missed our chance to run in slow motion into each other’s arms, but it was memorable nonetheless.  This nineteenth century fin de siecle station alone almost makes a visit to this Belgian city worthwhile. 

Antwerp central station

Antwerp station ceiling

Markets 

Markets tend to give a good flavour of a city’s character, and Antwerp has its fair share. We made it to Vrijdagmarkt, where locals were auctioning their goods at low prices, and we felt more like spectators than participants.

Antwerp market.

Chocolate has to be sampled in Belgium, so we had a post-market hot chocolate stop…

hot chocolate

Antwerp vintage shopping

Still in Vrijdagmarkt, there’s a a rather cool vintage clothes store called My Ohm, and home to a good selection at reasonable prices. I tried on a gorgeous evening dress from the 1970s, which fitted perfectly. The owner’s sales technique was direct, “just get it.” And I did … well it was my birthday.

Ohm Vintage

Another store that we came across was Jutka and Riska, which was a combination of new and vintage fashion.

Jutka and Riska

Antwerp fashion 

Antwerp is a fashion trendsetting city, and to capitalise on this growing reputation, you can go on a fashion tour. (Please let me know if you’ve been on it… ). I’m more of a vintage gal but if you prefer designer stores, Antwerp has it covered too. In the 1980s, the world took note of the Antwerp Six (Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee). Dries Van Noten‘s store is housed in the beautiful building below.

Dries Van Noten shop Antwerp

Couture in Colour: Silk and Prints from the Abraham Archive is the current exhibition at the Fashion Museum – Momu in Antwerp. And it was lucky for us, as I really enjoyed seeing sumptuous fabrics and couture dresses up close by Dior, Yves San Laurent and Balenciaga. I’ll save any more for a blog coming soon…

Fashion Museum Antwep Momu

Retro in the streets

I just couldn’t resist snapping  this glamorous shop dummy which brought to mind Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend somehow, and although the male dummies below should have been incongruous, they looked right at home in the street.

retro shop Antwerp

Male dummies

My boyfriend sniffed out quite a few vinyl record stores including Chelsea (pictured below).

vinyl record store

Whether jazz music is your thing or not, I’d recommend heading to the De Muze. Like all good jazz bars, it’s almost standing-room only on a Saturday night, but after a little wait we climbed the windy stairs to secure a table on the top floor, and there was no entrance fee. Sorry I’ve no pics, but visit their website for aural treat…

Museums: Culture Darling MAS here…

Although it’s me who works in marketing, my boyfriend took the opportunity for some free publicity for this blog. Perhaps he should have chalked “Culture Darling MAS here”, which covered some products in the MAS gift shop, shorthand for the Museum Aan de Stroom.

Culture Darling MAS here

The MAS Museum is part of a recent riverside redevelopment in the Eilandje or “little island” area of Antwerp. The building comprises boxes in brick-red sandstone piled neatly on top of one another like children’s play things with curved glass in between. Over six floors, the museum tells the story of Antwerp past and present, but as this is a port city its story incorporates the local and the global.  There are four permanent exhibits – Metropolis, Power, Life and Death and Antwerp as a Port city drawing on the museum’s collection of 470,000 objects. As this collection is so vast, the majority remains in storage. However, they made a feature of this by revealing their processes in a “visible storage” exhibit so that we could see how the objects are looked after by the team. This type of innovative curation continued throughout giving the museum a slightly off-centre appeal.

MAS

 

MAS entrance from outside.

The Winnie the Poohs are piled high as part of the exhibition about Antwerp as a port city, representing the trade in  illegal goods.

MAS museum pooh exhibit

The impact of Napoleonic rule of Antwerp from 1794 to 1814, when the city gained influence as an important military post was the focus of another exhibit. Many objects, featuring the French ruler, were displayed, such as pocket watches and the pipe featured below.

Napoleon pipe MAS museum Antwerp

‘Home Call’ was a interesting exhibit about globalisation, juxtaposing life for the Kasana in Northern Ghana with the lives of migrants in Antwerp, the second largest immigrant group in the city after Moroccans. Home Call means death in Ghana, a return to the ancestors, and whilst children used to announce the death in the streets, now posters are distributed. The home call posters were fascinating, displayed on lightboxes above our heads, which was fitting as there is a belief that the dead remain in the roof of their house. You can read more about this exhibition from the curator, Ann Cassiman.

Ghana exhibition Antwerp

Artist George Nuku combines traditional Polynesian sculpture with modern materials, such as polystyrene and plexiglass. Here he explains about the origins of the Haka dance.

Aboriginal art Antwerp MAS Museum

At the bottom of the MAS museum, Time Circus have transformed a disused crane into an urban garden, and we could see someone tilling the crops whilst making our way up to the top of the building.

MAS-garden

Bitter Zoet  – land of honey at lunchtime

When your museum-treading, fashionable feet are worn out, head to Bitter Zoet, a lovely cafe in the t’Zuid area of Antwerp. Its quirky, retro style is matched with a friendly, laid-back vibe. I think I may have had the most delicious baguette ever via the introduction of honey as a spread.

Bitter Zoet Cafe Antwerp

Boerentoren – the original European skyscraper

Just around the corner from our apartment was Boerentoren or the KBC building, one of the tallest in Antwerp. This art deco building by Jan Van Hoenacker, is often thought to be the first skyscraper in Europe.

Antwerp skyscraper

Also up high were these religious icons on the buildings throughout the city.

Christian sculpture on building Antwerp

Building in central Antwerp

In contrast, there were signs protest throughout the city…

Occupy Antwerp

rusty doors Antwerp

On our last day in Antwerp, we headed to the Photography Museum (FoMu), which is well-worth a visit for any lovers of the medium, and again we were lucky that their current exhibitions were fascinating; from dressing like a wild beast to the power of the camera, this museum deserves a blog post of its own…

Photo Museum Antwerp FoMu

Have you ever been to Antwerp? I’d love to go back soon, so please share your tips and thoughts on the places I’ve shared.

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Bohème Sauvage: back to Berlin 1920s style

The time is 1926. The place, Berlin, and the atmosphere smoky, bohemian with a touch of big band swing and burlesque. Absinthe is being sipped at the bar by a distracted cabaret dancer, whilst a speakeasy gangster cavalierly gambles Reichsmarks away, and a young flapper shimmers with delight as all eyes follow her to the dance floor… We’re at  Bohème Sauvage , a night of fun for vintage lovers in Germany. Actually before you read on, why not get in the mood and tune into Radio Dismuke?

I was invited by my 1920s-loving friend for her fortieth birthday to Berlin with six others with Bohème Sauvage on the agenda for a night of dress-up, dancing and who knows what else in a vintage playground. The support acts of swapping accessories and styling tips, washed down with deliciously authentic Russian vodka, were almost as much fun as the main event.

Bohème Sauvage is a postmodern mash-up of periods, styles and locations: bohemian Berlin of the 1920s, the Belle Epoque Paris of Toulouse Lautrec, burlesque and Moulin Rouge, and the American thirties with speakeasies, jazz clubs and gangsters. Whether we were dancing the Charleston, foxtrot, swing, waltz, tango, mambo, rumba… it hardly seemed to matter. As the website says:

“Bohème Sauvage does not try to copy this era; authenticity is not the highest aim… It is made for people who enjoy to express themselves, who like to dress up and wear costumes, who like playing with identities and basically for everyone who is open for experiments and adventures.”

As the birthday girl loves the 1920s – the decadence, the androgynous looks, the Louise Brooks do – we all dressed in clothes of that era. And where better to celebrate the style and culture of the twenties than Berlin. Between the two world wars, despite being wrecked from defeat, for a brief time the city was a cultural and intellectual capital of Europe, a Bohemian centre, with intellectuals and artists from all disciplines (including Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Christopher Isherwood, Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich, Otto Dix) making the city their home. Rainer Metzger in Berlin in the 1920s goes as far as arguing that Berlin at this time was the nearest to capture the Modernist idea of art and life becoming one.

Caberet photo - two women dancing.

With a creative surge in the arts from cinema to cabaret and a more relaxed attitude to sexuality, in retrospect the post-war mood was about enjoying the transience of the glitter now. The Charleston, the shimmy and the foxtrot were hugely popular and Metzger says, “there was a strong desire to lose oneself in the rhythm, and to let one’s body react to the syncopation and feelings engendered by the beat.” This was the time of androgynous dressing, Josephine Baker making top billing at the Femina-Palast, or at the Troika, in Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” where girls dance behind gauge, assignations are set in motion via the telephones lined up on the dancing hall, and dancers stream with sweat. Indeed, the decadent Sally Bowles, not anticipating the rise of Fascism to come, is the Berlin of our popular consciousness. The Cabaret element is alive at Bohème Sauvage with an Emcee character hosting the entertainment, including a burlesque dancer and a female three-piece band.

The mix and match attitude to vintage dress-up suited me as I love wearing vintage clothes without pandering too much to period detail or authenticity, and I enjoy the experience of dress-up rather than a particular period or scene. As Ted Polhemus says, “…sampling and mixing diverse, eclectic, often contradictory elements into a unique, personal statement.” Part of the pleasures of this event undoubtedly was being admitted and thereby told that we had dressed the part – although not necessarily “authentic” (I was wearing a 1920s style dress via the 1980s). Subtle dress code boundaries were prescribed on the website:

“…quite apart from any modern clothes such as jeans, t-shirts, sneakers etc, kitschy, glitzy and tasteless carnival costumes, plastic products, flashy wigs, pink feather boas and all of the time from 1880 to 1940 are obviously not appropriate. We appeal very specifically to your sense of style and aesthetic.”

Admittance depended on your (sub)cultural capital which cannot necessarily be learned – you either have that sense of style or you don’t. Even if you’ve bought your ticket online, we’re told you can still be refused at the door (but you will get a refund to soften the affront to your sense of style). During the night, we all commented on how wonderful everyone looked – all shapes and sizes, a range of ages – and how pleasurable it was that there seemed to be a group affinity and that people had entered the spirit of the party. It almost felt like a ‘scene’ but was more like a shared affinity with people who would place themselves outside mainstream culture ranging from weekenders to those who have a vintage lifestyle.

Bohème Sauvage was created by “Miss Else Edelstahl” who started hosting private 1920s salon parties in 2004, which have now has grown to monthly gatherings at large ballrooms across Germany. Ours was held in Meistersaal in Berlin, a prominent artistic venue in the 1920s.  We were attending Bohème Sauvage as it was being incorporated into to the mainstream, being mentioned as a not-so-secret travel tip. This decade is in, in, in with the hotly anticipated Great Gatsby and top designers picking up on the styles, not only for women but in menswear too, which will be highlighted in the vintage store and filter to the high street. There may be people who think that Bohème Sauvage has become less authentic, filled with “tourists” like our group…

It was not just in fashion terms that people could express their subcultural capital but also on the dancefloor. We were too late for the dancing lessons at the start of the evening to help people learn the Charleston, swing or foxtrott. I loved dancing (and waltzing very badly) but also enjoyed watching the couples swing, spin and twirl round the floor. As there were language barriers, I am not sure how many people were taking on particular roles or characters but it certainty felt like an environment where you could do this without fear of being laughed at, in fact it may add to your subcultural capital.

Dance card (Tanzcarte) Boheme Sauvage, Berlin

A 1920s revival may be of the moment with its echoes of economic, political and cultural uncertainty, and the sense of decadence and shifting gender roles is perhaps more appealing than certain recreations of the 1950s with more secure home-making attire and lifestyle. We could all fritter the hyper-inflated Reichmarks at the mock casino and drink and dance the night away as if all was lost. There may have been a whiff of decadence, but of course it’s played out within safe boundaries. However it was glamorous fun, and my inner flapper certainly enjoyed being released.

Anyone else been to Bohème Sauvage? Do you enjoy dressing up in the clothes of a particular era? Are you part of a vintage ‘scene’? Please share your thoughts in the comments box.

Look out for a blog about my flapper outfit but for now here’s a taster of the party…

Books I’ve mentioned…

Isherwood, Christopher, (1939), Goodbye to Berlin, Vintage: London

Metzger, Rainer, (2007), Berlin in the Twenties: Art and Culture 1918-1933, Thames & Hudson: London

Polhemus, Ted, (2010), Street Style, PYMCA: London.

Painting by house numbers: a Jubilee getaway

As a Jubilee getaway, we switched street parties and bunting for tiramisu and dinner for two under the stars. Destination: Lake Orta in Italy. Relaxation and more relaxation were top priority with our only decisions being what to eat, drink and read next… and whether to go back in the lake for another dip.

The Painted Houses of Legro

Miasino, a sleepy village, was perfect for our unwind/reading catch-up/unplug holiday. It was high on the hill and so each day we walked off the previous evening’s Italian feast al fresco with a one-hour walk down to the lake. We started to notice that house murals were a marked feature of the area. The mural’s hero below reminded of me of Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. Although I think I got my films mixed up, I was on to something with the cinematic theme.

Gone with the Wind mural

The murals make up an open air cinema, with the inspiration coming from Italian film and television, especially those set in the Lake Orta area.  Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story in 1950, Miso Amaro (De Santis, 1949) is an Italian neorealist film, produced by Lux, the well-known film production house.

Amaro Film Poster

The film centres on a low-level criminal couple who try to hide out by disguising the woman, Francesca, as a peasant worker in the rice fields in Northern Italy. The title – Bitter Rice or Bitter Laugh – is a pun on the subsequent plot of murder, love and robbery.

Even if you don’t understand Italian, here is a groovy dancing scene from Miso Amaro, which illustrates the tensions between characters.

There were many other murals in the town but their big screen influence was not as easy to identify as with Miso Amaro. The stories of the famed Italian children’s book writer Gianni Rodari, born on Lake Orta, are also supposed to feature but I didn’t see any that correspond to what little I know about him. An allegory of class struggle, his most famous story is Cipollino (or Little Onion), where the onion fights the injustice in the garden.

Singer mural in Legro

Two murals in Legro

As we dragged ourselves up the hill to our apartment from the lake, desperately looking for an excuse to pause for breathe casually, this mural keep us distracted. What exactly is going on in that boat?

Legro Mural - Man and woman in boat The modern cinematic murals complemented the more traditional Christian frescos on the apartment walls of the narrow, shaded streets, which were as commonplace as door numbers.

Painting at house number 5

alter

And it was not only on the walls of Miasino and Legro which were adorned. Just behind the village lies Sacre Monte, an UNESCO site, with 21 chapels and a staggering, 900 frescos and 366 monuments dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. Work on the site began in the late 16th century and it encompasses many architectural styles from late Renaissance to baroque and rococo.

Sacre Monte fresco of St Francis

St Francis painting with graffiti

St Francis Tableau

Summer frock

And no holiday snap album would be complete without an appropriate dress. Here’s the dress of the summer – a stripy vintage 80s (trying to do 50s) dress bought in Brighton in the winter months in anticipation of long sunny days. Released at last in this Italian village…

Summer dress

Have any of you visited Lake Orta or seen any quirky mural towns? Let me know…