Sep 22, 2017 | By Lizzy Bowring
Aug 10, 2016
By Jian DeLeon
Founded in 2010 by Giancarlo Angeletti and Bob Follens, VIER Antwerp is a cozy menswear shop (their interior is just 30 square meters) that offers an eclectic selection of catwalk designers and buzzy brands with plenty of street cred. You’d be hard-pressed to find a retailer willing to take a chance on new designers like Devon Halfnight Leflufy alongside names like Raf Simons and merchandise from New York City pirate radio-inspired station Know Wave.
While Antwerp has a reputation for producing some of the most influential fashion designers of the century, like recently appointed Calvin Klein creative director Raf Simons, pattern master Dries Van Noten, and enigmatic deconstructionist Martin Margiela, VIER Antwerp toes the line between understanding and embracing directional design and easy-wearing clothes with a casually commercial appeal.
That high/low menswear mix may seem commonplace these days, but the Antwerp shop has earned some serious co-signs from its lauded fashion citizens. Raf Simons says he can’t travel without one of the shop’s in-house brand hoodies, while frequent Simons collaborator, photographer Willy Vanderperre, has shot some of their goods for editorials and campaigns. The store takes its name from Antwerp’s fourth district—”vier” is Belgian for “four”—and excels at the unique subcultural mix that resonates with an increasingly overlapping, globally connected youth culture that’s helped proliferate buzzy labels like London’s Palace brand and Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, whose wares are also stocked at VIER.
Co-founder Bob Follens took some time to discuss Antwerp’s underground street culture scene, the eclectic influences that inform the store and its covetable in-house label (items often sell out, like the Thrasher-influenced graphic tees and hoodies), and the unique mix of product that defines the modern menswear market, but also the store’s DNA.
Your name is inspired by the Fourth District of Antwerp, what is this neighbourhood known for?
We are located in the heart of the fashion district in Antwerp. It is an area of mainly smaller independent retailers that are into streetwear next to some of the biggest names in fashion like Dries Van Noten, for example. With our shop we kind of want to take the best from both worlds—so this is why you can find iconic skate/street brands like Stüssy, Thrasher, Powell Peralta, and Fuct SSDD next to designers like Raf Simons, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Ganryu, and Tim Coppens.
At just 30-square meters, our shop is really small. With VIER Antwerp, we try to bring things that you can combine with different styles, whether it’s a Raf Simons jacket or a pair of Dickies pants.
In the five years you have been open, how has the shop evolved?
We first started only with the shop and were considered as very niche: Many times people would not know the brands we carried or what we stood for. The reason we started was mainly because felt something was missing in between street/skate and high-end fashion.
Most of the time you would either find a sneaker or skate shop, or a high-end designer shop where you feel uncomfortable to walk in. Over time, people got more used to what we are doing because they see it in other countries, or through social media, so for many it is not as weird of a concept as it used to be.
How has the retail scene changed? What made you want to start the in-house line?
In the end, we just wanted to have place where anyone would feel welcome—very easy to walk in with a laid-back atmosphere—a place where you can simply find good stuff in a relaxed setting. Our apparel was something that grew slowly on: It first started with our “Antwerp” logo. People liked it, and so we started doing more and more. Now that we’re receiving requests from other interesting shops that want to carry our brand, we’re looking into how we can manage this on a production level and distribution-wise.
What’s the connection between fashion and culture among your customers?
For us, it is really important to have a connection with different subcultures, as they are often very influential on trends and fashion in general. However, skate is only one of our influences as we have a very differentiated type of customer, a thing that we are very proud of. VIER brings a mix of skate/streetwear and more high-end brands and designers. By doing this, we want to attract the young skater and at the same time a more grown-up customer.
You could find some of the most famous people in fashion standing next to a couple of football hooligans who want to buy one of our t-shirts, or a grandpa buying the same pair of shoes or a 16-year old skater. With our apparel brand, we want to speak to different subcultures: it can be a graphic t-shirt for a young skater, or something a tourist takes home as a souvenir, but it’s something that people into fashion want to wear—whether it is because of the link to a certain culture or just because of a certain graphic.
“Basically, we take inspiration from stuff that we like or have a connection with. This can relate to skate, sports, photography, graphic design, a certain subculture, and our local youth culture. As long as we have some kind of feeling with it, we use it as a starting point, and from there see what we come up with.”
Antwerp is known for its runway designers, but what about smaller brands and street culture, what’s the local scene like?
Street culture in Antwerp has long been quite underground and not as commonly spread as today. You used to have different subcultures like punks, skaters, and skinheads, but they were always very much on their own. You could immediately tell what group someone belonged to just by the way they dressed—and most of the time you would just hang around with people that belonged to the same subculture.
Many of these subcultures still exist, but nowadays you see more of an evolution towards a more mainstream street culture that is related to music like hip-hop or electronic. This culture has a less clearly defined style and is more about subtle differences. Today, here like everywhere else, you see an explosion of new brands and shops coming up who each want to take their own place—but it is only a minority who really stand out.
You carry Raf Simons, and he is a big fan of your hoodies. What’s your relationship like with designers like him, who are also inspired by young energy?
We really like Raf and his work, especially the way he looks at the things that happen around him and the way he finds inspiration and creativity in youth culture, music, and art. He looks at the outsider, takes inspiration from underground subcultures, and has the ability to bring ideas together in perfect way like no other.
What inspired your Umbro collaboration?
One of our first projects were tees with the football hooligan firm Antwerp Casual Crew, so for us it seemed like a nice thing to do with one of the most iconic football brands around. It is a brand from our youth, with a lot of history, a link to casual culture and a symbol for football. On top of that, here in Antwerp, Umbro almost has a cult status, as one of the biggest achievements in the history of the Royal Antwerp Football Club—winning the Belgian Cup—was done in an Umbro kit back in the early ’90s.
Can we expect any other cool projects down the line?
We have a few exciting things coming up but unfortunately can’t tell too much about them yet…
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