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.
The long shopping street of Meir has mid-range international chains and department stores, while the upmarket stores and boutiques have colonized the area south of the Grote Markt between Steenhouwersvest and Komedieplaats; here you’ll find Diane von Furstenberg, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Filippa K, and many others. For lace, scour the streets surrounding the cathedral and for diamonds, head for Appelmansstraat and nearby streets around Centraal Station.
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 6pm. Also on the cutting edge of fashion: Dries van Noten (Nationalestraat 16; www.driesvannoten.be; [tel] 03/470-2510), whose quirky prints have become legendary.
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).
Antwerp remains the world’s leading market for cut diamonds and second only to London as an outlet for raw and industrial diamonds, despite intense competition from India, Dubai, and Israel. The raw facts are sparkling enough: 84 percent of all the world’s diamonds pass through Antwerp at some point on their journey from rough stone to polished, set gem. There are four diamond-trading houses in Antwerp and together they comprise an industry that turns over 147 million euros for the city each year. The trade, with its diamond cutters and polishers, workshops, brokers, and merchants, is centered on the few heavily guarded streets that form the city’s Diamantkwartier (Diamond Quarter), located steps away from Centraal Station. It is regulated by the Antwerp World Diamond Center (www.awdc.be) and mostly run by members of the city’s Hasidic Jewish community, who found a niche market when they arrived in Antwerp in the 15th century.
To buy diamonds or watch them being cut, visit the constellation of jewelry stores in the Diamond Quarter. Diamondland, Appelmansstraat 33a (www.diamondland.be; tel. 03/369-0780) is the city’s biggest diamond salesroom and offers free guided tours of its workshops as well as trustworthy, personalized, and knowledgeable service for serious buyers (all tax-free for non-E.U. visitors). 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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