Fashionistas are cured of mere faddishness at Hospital, a boutique by Puresang in Antwerp, Belgium
Maria Shollenbarger -- Interior Design, 4/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Deep in Antwerp’s terminally cool Zuid district, signage announcing Clinic and Hospital flanks a quiet side street. Lest you think you’ve hit upon this Belgian city’s ground zero for medical treatment, rest assured that—fortunately for you—you’ve stumbled onto fashion central instead. Four-year-old Clinic, a denim-bar boutique catering to Antwerp’s skinny-jeans-craving student population, is all right angles and tongue-in-cheek references to extreme sports and pop culture. Bull’s-eyes adorn the walls; bungee cords are fashioned into displays for Diesel stiletto boots; plumbing and heating pipes are exposed; floors are painted concrete. Across the street at Hospital, which just opened to much fanfare, things take a decidedly more mature turn. The fashion includes Sonia Rykiel, Alexander McQueen, Paul & Joe, and Raf Simons as well as the French denim brand Notify, and raw plywood has given way to solid oak. But the idiosyncratic, slightly subversive spirit of Clinic is subtly present.
The two fashion emporiums have not just a common owner, entrepreneur Jeroen Smeekens, but also a common interiors firm, Puresang. Smeekens and principal Will Erens, the man behind both shops, are thick as thieves. Both saw Hospital as having “a big-city allure, a true metropolitan feel,” Erens says. “It needed to be a landmark, distinguished as much—if not more—by a singular interior as by the cool, eclectic mix of designers stocked. In Antwerp, that’s no small task.”
To ensure landmark status, Smeekens discovered a 1903 stable for the municipal racetrack, long defunct—a raw space that boasted a 22-foot ceiling, multiple skylights, and original brick, largely intact. Erens decided almost immediately to leave one entire wall exactly as he’d found it, letting other interior elements take its rough-but-elegant cue. “High-fashion boutiques tend to be heavy on the bling materials. Mirror, marble, lacquer, metallic paint,” he says. “Hospital has roots in the building’s origins. We used lots of materials popular around the time the stables were built.”
This involved fairly extensive reconnaissance. The elaborate majolica tiles covering sections of display units—vibrant shots of color in a space otherwise neutral—are the fruit of excursions to Moroccan medinas and Turkish bazaars. Some sourcing was done closer to home. The unfinished high-grade oak used throughout is Flemish. Other local elements include the antique mirrors in the dressing rooms and the rusted iron supports for the new freestanding mezzanine.
It’s that oak mezzanine that’s the star of the show, conceived by Erens both to give definition to the enormous undivided space, almost 9,000 square feet, and to create a place to showcase individual designers and collections. Up on the floating platform, polished-steel display cases signify a departure from the antique-chic look in the rest of the store. Seen from below, the mezzanine’s platform becomes a ceiling that defines a more intimate sales space.
Connecting the two levels is a straight staircase sheltered by an oak-plank canopy, a striking angular complement to the graceful curve of the mezzanine—the aggregate of strong verticals and horizontals is mesmerizing. A similar canopy marks the entrance to the dressing rooms, all curtained off by an eclectic collection of vintage wool fabrics, from classic tartans to menswear weaves. The walls are lined in mohair velvet studded with copper nail heads like traditional English upholstery.
“Hospital’s motto is ‘Objects of Desire,’” Erens notes. That’s why the shop carries not just fashion but also books and objects, why there’s a subterranean wine bar, and why a single vintage auto is auctioned off every month. All in all, the combination makes Hospital a salubrious stop whether you’re in the market for cutting-edge fashion or not.
Photography by Guy Obijn.
Throughout: Modular Lighting: Track Lighting, Recessed Ceiling Fixtures.