Antwerp yields not an inch to Brussels in the style wars -- in fact, Antwerp is by far the more fashion conscious of the two. During the 1980s and 1990s, youthful local fashion designers, graduates of the city's Fine Arts Academy, made a major and enduring impact within Belgium and established a substantial international reputation.
Expensive, upmarket stores, boutiques, and department stores abound in De Keyserlei and the Meir. For haute couture, go to Leopoldstraat; for lace, the streets surrounding the cathedral; for books, Hoogstraat; for electronics and antiques, Minderbroedersrui; and for diamonds, Appelmansstraat and nearby streets, all near Centraal Station.
Where to Shop--A top Belgian fashion designer keeps shop at Ann Demeulemeester's, Verlatstraat 38 (tel. 03/216-01-33; tram: 8 to Leopold de Waelplaats), in front of the Royal Fine Arts Museum. Demeulemeester, one of the "Antwerp Six," turned down an offer from Naomi Campbell to model her clothes on the grounds that Campbell, though admittedly beautiful, was glamorous rather than elegant. This is the only place in the world where you can buy her complete lines of clothes, shoes, and accessories for both men and women. Space for displaying them is not a problem at this former seaman's academy, a 19th-century listed building. It's open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm.
Treat your feet to shoes by Anne Demeulemeester and top Flemish designers Dries Van Noten and Dirk Bikkembergs at Coccodrillo, Schuttershofstraat 9A (tel. 03/233-20-93). Gozo, Steenhouwersvest 63 (tel. 03/226-24-58), serves up chic, affordable women's fashions, including Belgian designer Olivier Strelli's moderately priced 22 Octobre line.
For diamonds, visit the glittering jewelry and gold stores of the Diamond Quarter, around Centraal Station. At Diamondland, Appelmansstraat 33A (tel. 03/229-29-90; www.diamondland.be; Métro: Centraal Station), it's fascinating to watch expert cutters and polishers transform undistinguished stones into gems of glittering beauty -- the "Antwerp cut" is said to give them more sparkle. This luxurious showplace, the city's biggest, provides a firsthand look at the process on a guided tour of its workrooms, and you can take home a souvenir of lasting value for a price considerably lower than you'd pay elsewhere (tax-free for residents of countries outside the European Union). The shop is open during regular business hours Monday to Saturday, and also on Sunday and holidays April to October.
Get in touch with your inner child at Piet Konijn, Steenhouwersvest 42 (tel. 03/226-84-07), where many of the toys are made from wood and don't blink, bleep, or run out of battery juice.
English-language books are available from FNAC, Groenplaats 31 (tel. 03/231-2056), and Standaard, Huidevetterstraat 57 (tel. 03/231-0773).
Markets--Antwerp's famed street markets are fun as well as good bargain-hunting territory. If you're in town on a Saturday from April till September, shop for a steal (that'll be the day) at the Antiques Market, Lijnwaadmarkt, Saturday from Easter to October 10am to 6pm. The outstanding Bird Market is a general market that features live animals, plants, textiles, and foodstuffs; it takes place Sunday mornings in Oude Vaartplaats near the City Theater. At the Friday Market, on Wednesday and Friday mornings on Vrijdagmarkt facing the Plantin-Moretus Museum, household goods and secondhand furniture are put on public auction.
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