In the heart of Antwerp, a serene design oasis arises when going through the big black doors of Graanmarkt 13. In this beautiful building, each floor tells its own story. Two of the floors house a shopping area, offering a mix of fashion, cosmetics and interior design. On the ground floor, chef Seppe Nobels and his team cook the most delicate dishes based on local vegetables. The two top floors, renovated by architect Vincent van Duysen, offer a spacious 4-bedroom apartment that is for rent throughout the year. As Graanmarkt 13 is one of the very first retailers selling the Salle Privée collection, it was only appropriate to share their story here. Please meet Tim van Geloven and Ilse Cornelissens, the owners of this unique location.
What can you tell us about Graanmarkt 13’s concept?
We want to have one concept, one philosophy throughout the entire building. With our restaurant we offer a healthy and conscious concept, without a menu to choose from. We serve seasonal and local products and have a no-waste rule. We try to listen to nature and limit our choices: if rabbits eat a farmer’s carrots, we don’t serve carrots that day, period. And all products are finished by the end of the week. We think this definitely portraits the current spirit of time, also when it comes to fashion. There’s been a lot of noise about the fashion industry not being sustainable, and for about a year or two we’ve been reading and talking about it, asking ourselves: how sustainable is our store concept? Are we aligned with the story we tell in our restaurant and apartment? So we decided to turn around our store’s concept as well. We believe now is the time to change fashion. We don’t want to work with the speed of the big brands and the overdoing of sale just to get as much products as possible into people’s closets. A lot has already been written about it, but you can only change by doing. Our first step was to abandon the solden and give brands more time to present their products, when appropriate. In summer we were usually already surrounded by winter coats, which didn’t exactly bring us a lot of joy. But, customers did buy them because they were conditioned to do so – by the time you really need a coat it’s not available anymore. We’re now trying to change this approach. It’s not that we’re not fashion-minded anymore. Au contraire, I believe we do this out of respect for the designer as well as the final consumer. Everyone within the process deserves more respect.
“We do this out of respect for the designer as well as the final consumer. Everyone within the process deserves more respect.”
Do you think consumers are ready for this shift as well?
Not all of them, but something is definitely changing. They’re still used to buying a winter coat in summer, but when they now enter our store and see beautiful summer items - which they can immediately start wearing – they instantly go for it. So in that sense they are ready for it, but we’re afraid the system doesn’t allow it yet. People are always on the look for something new. You always see a specific group that show up during the sales periods only, yet there’s also a lot of people that prefer nót to buy an item right then and there. I mean, obviously we are a commercial concept, but at the same time we want to raise more awareness. We rather have a customer buying one beautiful piece that he really wants, than him buying multiple items because of the discount. We believe discount devaluates the product, resulting in an over-consuming, disposable culture. So yes, customers still need to get used to it, but to us it already feels really good.
“We rather have a customer buying one beautiful piece that he really wants, than him buying multiple items because of the discount.”
What kind of men visit Graanmarkt 13?
First of all, Belgian men are always looking for the best quality: it’s in their DNA. It’s something that is confirmed over and over by their attraction to Salle Privée. They see it, touch it, and immediately fall for it. It’s mostly businessmen, who initially come in for our restaurant but end up making a round in our store. And now they come to shop. There’s also a lot of creative guys, architects, designers, who start to find the way to our store. We notice we attract those men more since we’ve changed our concept: less fashionistas but definitely more culturally, creatively developed people who are less sensitive when it comes to trends and care more about quality and design. So there’s a perfect match between the brand and Belgian men.
“Belgian men are always looking for the best quality: it’s in their DNA. It’s something that is confirmed over and over by their attraction to Salle Privée.”
When did you first get in touch with Salle Privée?
I remember quite vividly bumping into Patrick (Munsters, founder Salle Privée) at an event and him telling me about his new concept. We had just decided to change our direction, so we had a really nice conversation about that and found out we had a lot in common. The idea behind Salle Privée perfectly matched our philosophy. Also, he was wearing an amazing coat that we all instantly fell in love with. We saw the collection for the first time a few months later, in a gallery in Paris. That’s when we knew it was exactly what we were looking for.
What’s your customers’ response to the collection?
The best compliment is that they come back for it. They usually start with one item but quickly come back for more. It’s also quite remarkable how easily it’s purchased: they try it on, feel that it’s good and take it with them, simple as that. That’s what happens with high-quality products. And maybe they don’t buy a complete suit the first time, but we can build up to that. (Ilse turns to Tim) Look at yourself; how many times have you bought a suit versus a dark blue sweater? I rest my case.
What’s your take on men’s fashion, do trends still exist?
A strong trend we currently see is the endless search for that one perfect piece. Which obviously seamlessly connects to Salle Privée, but also appeals to men in general. I guess there’s always certain trends to spot. Look at our concept and the launch of Salle Privée: it’s a response to over-consumption. People tend to want more, speed, instant, fast fashion, no waiting for things. A counter-reaction is the need for exclusive items that are made with care and attention. And maybe we will eventually go in the opposite direction again and it will all become chaos.
“A strong trend we currently see
is the endless search for that one perfect piece.”
What’s the role of online in all this?
We very much believe in the combination. People still want to meet the physical and personal side of a brand. Personality is extremely important, and so is meeting the product in its own environment. We don’t believe in online only, but they do reinforce each other. We get a lot of customers that first saw a product online but prefer to try it on in our store. Thanks to a webshop each product gets the same amount of attention, while in the store some items can sort of get lost. We live in an online age anyway, the internet is indispensable. The new generation is even more connected. Our friends’ 15-year old daughter invited her mother to go shopping and then grabbed her laptop. It’s only a matter of time before we’re all swiping through life.
Any exciting plans for the future?
We do see ourselves as an international brand, with our laboratory right here in Antwerp. But to keep things personal we’d never want to be present in 50 different places at the same time. Some people have been shopping from us online for years and then they finally come to Antwerp, which is quite a special moment. We prefer to spread our brand online and keep this as our “hub”. We do want to start creating our own products; products that will grow organically and are made by the people we meet along the way. I don’t think we will ever present a full fashion collection, but we do have so many different aspects – food, fashion, ceramics, etc. Which on one hand makes it difficult to keep focus but at the same time allows you to do exciting things that fit the concept. We’re now starting a project with our own herb garden, Garden 13, including seeds, natural syrups, candles and a fragrance. We often ask ourselves the question: how do we stay part of the lives of our international customers? How can they take a piece of us with them? This results in products they can drink, spray, wear, etc. In terms of fashion we’d like to collaborate with people we believe in, we’re surrounded by all these talented people and we’d like to build our brand with them. Our concept is so wide; we can basically make everything we like. So it’s an exciting new adventure but it needs to happen consciously, grow organically, add something and be of great quality. The last story of Graanmarkt 13 has definitely not been told.