Christian Wijnants and Andreas Bozarth Fornell smile when they recall the moment they found out they were born in the same year. The Belgian fashion designer known for his knitwear and tactile approach to combining fabrics, and the Swedish architect whose intimate Acne Studios boutiques are examples of a sensory retail experience, discovered they have much more in common when Wijnants called on him to design his first flagship store in Antwerp.
'It’s fantastic to do the first store for a brand,' comments Bozarth Fornell. 'It’s the first time the DNA becomes three-dimensional.' Situated behind Antwerp’s fashion museum (MoMu) and amid streets brimming with other high fashion boutiques that are slowly edging out the antiques dealers that used to trade in this area of the city, the 100 sq m space with its glass facade looks unassuming from the outside. It’s a typical Bozarth Fornell feature that also reflects Wijnants’ discreet nature as a designer.
'In the few stores I visited of Andreas, I liked the mix of materials, colours, the contrasts, the unexpected,' explains Wijnants. 'From one corner to the other you discover new elements. Sometimes it’s a clash of materials, like something cheaper next to something more luxurious. Putting them next to each other is very interesting.'
Bozarth Fornell knocked down interior walls and the lowered ceiling, opening up the narrow space. Inside, light green and dirty white walls frame a matte grey concrete floor. A free-standing, low partition of concrete stone is enveloped on one side by a marble covering, combining raw and smooth.
A ochre yellow fibreglass storage space is a clever way of reformatting the space by juxtaposition. The rear end of the space is a carpeted corner occupied by two leather chairs and outside, behind a glass window framework, a luscious backdrop of plants – conceived by landscape designers Bart Haverkamp and Pieter Croes – plays with light and perspective thanks to a folding screen mirror placed against the garden wall.
'I liked the idea of something cozy that feels good,' continues Wijnants. 'Thanks to the mix of soft and rough materials, the greenery, the chairs and the carpet, it’s homely without being cliché.'
'It’s important to feel included, not excluded,' adds Bozarth Fornell about the feel he was after for the flagship. 'That’s all retail is about, to play on people’s emotions and try to attract them inside. We talk a lot about it being a journey, a small adventure where you don’t see everything at once.'