IZZY CAMMARERI 05 February, 2018
RETAIL FOCUS | THE ART OF CONSCIOUS LIVING, FASHION AND CULINARY AT GRAANMARKT 13
Tags Retail Focus, Graanmarkt 13, Ilse Cornelissens, Tim Van Geloven, Home-like Retail, Retail Concept, Experiential Retail, The Row, The Apartment by The Line, The Apartment, Apartment Stores, Alex Eagle, Conceptual Retail, Multi-sensory, Seppe Nobels
“Although we created a concept, we treated it like it was our family and I think that our clients truly feel that - it’s not only created as a business but created as a place of comfort. I think it’s also something that happens in the world - we all started using Instagram and Social media because people want to get into the lifestyles of others and it’s all about the experience, not about the products.”
Ilse Cornelissens and her husband Tim Van Geloven are the wits behind Graanmarkt 13, a multi-concept space concealed within a gleaming white townhouse. Situated on a leafy square in Antwerp’s theatre district, it is identifiable only by a small white placard on its arching doorstep and perhaps best described as a retreat where fashion meets culinary. Indeed it is a trio of charming experiences; a delicious vegetable-focused restaurant in the basement, a multi-label boutique on the ground floor with a careful edit of top-tier emerging designers, beauty products and homeware, and a luxurious rentable apartment spanning the top two floors. In an age where the value of experiences trumps the value of products, the team behind Graanmarkt 13 have mastered the art of home-like retail, offering a seamless blend of fashion, food and lifestyle and a home away from home.
One of many brand mottos, Graanmarkt’s relaxing, pensive sensibility is ultimately what makes it. Its pristine interiors were designed by architect Vincent Van Duysen, who re-worked the houses’ empty shell into what it is today. The top floor apartment features four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a light-drenched living room, with an enormous fireplace and floor to ceiling windows opening onto a terrace. Earthy parquet floors spill from room to room, while a stunning freestanding marble bathtub sits in the middle of the bathroom. It’s definitively stylish and has all the stops of classic Nordic minimalism, yet it remains warm, cosy and welcoming. Over the phone, Ilse Cornelissens muses she is never one to limit a creative mind, so Duysen had a completely free hand to reimagine the space with his own vision. She admits however, that she came up with the idea of a theatre-like vanity table with vintage-style mirror lamps, craftily hidden in the master bedroom wardrobe. “In the beginning Vincent didn’t like it at all, but he found a way to make it happen with his architectural eye and in the end he was very happy with the result,” she beamed.
Acquiring the building in its dilapidated state more than a decade ago (previously running its course as a bank and even a Chinese restaurant), Tim and Ilse built Graanmarkt 13 from the ground up until it blossomed into a multifarious port of call. Keeping the idea of family at the heart of the establishment, Ilse explains that there are three main faces to the building; Tim, Ilse and Seppe Nobels, the restaurant chef. Each time, customers are welcomed by the same genuine faces and come to know them like their own family - it’s the epitome of personalised hospitality. For the first few years, Tim and Ilse also lived in the apartment, allowing them to be even more personally invested with the space.
“We were interested in bringing a lot of creative fields together because we believe life should be surrounded by food, fashion, beauty, art and by architecture, so the dream was always to offer a lifestyle concept to reflect the way we like to live. We really tried to create this beautiful lifestyle by working with the best of the best”
Graanmarkt’s boutique section appears like a cosy living room, featuring tons of contemporary seating and elegant displays. Initially stocking big brand names and popular designers, Ilse explains their buying strategy has evolved in recent years to select more consciously, considering the unsustainability of current fashion systems. Having a no-waste restaurant, they decided to translate this policy into the store as well: “The world of buying products is changing at the moment and I think people are becoming conscious about the value of things. If we stay within the current system, putting everything on sale after two or three months, then we lose the value in things and we produce too much of something we don’t need.”
Graanmarkt 13 currently stocks labels that defy throwaway culture, producing durable, quality pieces and who employ a timeless philosophy. Ranging from under-the-radar to established designers and artists, their portfolio of beauty, apparel and accessories labels includes Mansur Gavriel, Mackintosh, Und Gretel, Santa Maria Novella, Pamela Love, Lemaire, Sofie D'hoore, Simon Miller, Ancient Greek Sandals and Extreme Cashmere amongst a number of others.
“We can all read about [sustainability] and think about it, but if you never take action nothing really changes. We wanted to challenge people to buy less and to buy better. So, slowly we are transforming to stock brands like CristaSeya, a brand that works in editions. I can still buy a piece from the first edition from four years ago, so it never really goes out of fashion. We want to have a store in which everything keeps its value.”
Ilse reveals, once a season the store holds a second-hand weekend market in-store where they ask customers to bring in old clothes to resell. In turn, they are given vouchers to spend in-store. “It’s a way to get our customers into new buying habits, a challenge for them to clean their closets once a season and to realise that we all have too much and that there are so many items that probably never see the light of day.”
The store has also recently been churning out their own range of botanical in-house products, making their rooftop garden the inspiration for everything. Starting with a fragrance, they enlisted the help of Lyn Harris from Perfumer H in London, who created a perfume inspired by the house and the garden, suitable for him, for her and for home. Next, they teamed up with indulgent candle makers Cire Trudon in France, to produce a scented candle with the same scent as their fragrance.
“We have worked hard for eight years to try and make it all happen in Antwerp and now we feel that we are ready for people to take a piece of Graanmarkt with them, so that’s why we began creating our own range of products.”
“COME HUNGRY, LEAVE HAPPY”
Padding into the kitchen, Ilse calls out to Seppe, the restaurant’s critically acclaimed head chef, to remind her of the elements from her favourite dish. It’s razor clams with horseradish from their rooftop garden, of which she goes on to muse: “a dish that he actually created for our wedding! We got married one year before Graanmarkt opened and that’s how we met Seppe. These razor clams still come back to our kitchen once in a while and I really love the way he makes them.” On sundays the restaurant offers an ‘all-in self-serving family buffet’, a culinary banquet for friends and loved ones with refreshing vegetable dishes, grandma’s style roast beef, homemade pies and other warm, hearty delicacies.
Coming from a traditional culinary background and working for a number of Michelin-starred restaurants, Seppe Nobels learned from the greatest, bringing his expertise to the tables of Graanmarkt 13. His honest, eco-conscious cooking saw the restaurant voted as ‘Best Vegetable restaurant 2015 of Flanders’ by Gault Millau. “I’m so impressed with what he can do with vegetables, treating them the way he learned to treat meat and fish, using all kinds of unconventional techniques to make them super interesting and tasty. I really believe there are not many places in the world where you can find vegetable dishes the way we offer them at Graanmarkt”, exclaimed Ilse.
Next month, they will be launching little square meter gardens for the home, in collaboration with the restaurant herborist, Bart Belmans, who delivers the herbs that cannot be produce on the rooftop. A theme for kids will feature little carrots and radishes; a bee and butterfly buffet will produce flowers for bees; and a third mix called ‘Salad is a Wild Thing’, will include three types of vegetable ingredients to create a mixed salad. In May, Graanmarkt will also be launching a line of completely natural syrups with no added sugars or preservatives, invented by Seppe.
For the millennial consumer, experience and authenticity matters and though Graanmarkt 13 is one of the original pioneers of a ‘home-like’ retail concept, it seems a slew of stores worldwide have recently began to address this shift in consumer habits. In London, there is Alex Eagle Studio, helmed by Alex Eagle who formerly worked for Tank and Harper’s Bazaar. Established in 2014, the concept store is chock-full of comfy sofas, modern art, books, homeware, furniture, design, beauty and the finest selection of designer wear. Sitting in the heart of London’s Soho, it was envisioned as a creative hub encouraging more than just shopping but a multi-sensory immersion. Eagle is also Creative Director for The Store Berlin and The Store X Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire - both equally adopting the welcoming appeal of home-like environments with their own interior twists. In New York, there’s The Apartment by The Line opened in 2013; a refined third floor apartment in Soho, complete with closet, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom and where everything is entirely for sale. In Denmark too, there’s The Apartment, a beautifully restored 18th century flat in which one can find an eclectic curation of wall tapestries, contemporary art objects, rugs, floor lamps, creative lighting and 20th century furniture pieces. Or take The Row’s New York townhouse established in 2016. Within a gorgeous three-story abode, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s grace the endless cream walls and a winding oval staircase takes centre stage, while mid-century chairs and plush sofas dot each of the rooms and The Row’s seasonal collections line sparse railings. It’s impressive and elegant but far from ostentatious.
And perhaps that’s the secret that runs true to all home-like retail concepts - it’s about creating a destination where comfort, intimacy and personalisation are genuine and where endless inspiration derives from a combination of experiences. For Graanmarkt 13 it’s about telling an authentic story; a story which emotionally connects the customer to each aspect of the space and welcomes them to be part of the story too. It’s about offering a retreat from the outside world and giving customers the opportunity to make the space their own, moving away from mindless business and pressurised spending and offering a sense of family, loyalty and immersion and a chance to interact with the merchandise at their own pace.
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