By  on August 19, 2014

PARIS — Empowered by financial backing from its new investors, Belgian fashion brand A.F. Vandevorst is setting up its first flagship — 16 years after the husband-and-wife duo An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx founded the label in their native Antwerp.

“It’s a small store, but in a great location,” Arickx said of the 650-square-foot unit, slated to open today on Lombardenvest 20 in Antwerp’s city center, a stone’s throw from Dries Van Noten and Acne Studios. “The district has no name, it’s just where fashion is sold,” he added.

Designed in collaboration with Belgian scenographer Bob Verhelst, who previously lent his eye to Maison Martin Margiela, Hermès and Cartier, among others, and architect Thomas Van Looij, the building features a retail space on the ground floor and a showroom on the upper level, where twice a month the duo will offer private appointments to select clients, “advising” and “guiding” them through its collections, which will also be “an exciting way to gain feedback on our work,” Arickx noted.

Building on A.F. Vandevorst’s signature theme — the Red Cross — the shop’s interior is kept clean and sleek in mostly oyster white, while fitting rooms are modeled after “cabinets at a nice, private hospital,” as Arickx put it.

“When I was 12, the Red Cross in our area was changing its furniture and my father and I went to pick it up. This is when I started collecting hospital design,” Arickx explained.

He said when he was 18 and met Vandevorst at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, from which they both graduated in 1991, he realized she too was obsessed with the subject via art, most notably the works of Joseph Beuys. “The aesthetic stayed with us, and the red cross became our logo,” he said.

The new flagship will stock the designers’ main line as well as their accessories and shoe collection, which they launched in 2003. Prices range from 220 euros, or $292, for a T-shirt to 1,000 euros, or $1,339, for a coat.

Forced to discontinue their lingerie and swimwear lines in 2009 after the manufacturer encountered economic difficulties, A.F. Vandevorst could soon take up other categories, too. “We are now looking for partners to do perfume and collaborations with other disciplines we admire to show that the A.F. Vandevorst universe is bigger than garments. We would like to do objects, as well,” said Arickx.

The fashion label currently counts 118 points of sale, including Selfridges in London, Day and Night in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Tom Greyhound in Paris, and is present in 22 countries. “We know that Antwerp will work,” assured Arickx. “The Benelux countries, Germany and Russia are our biggest markets. In Moscow, we are quite institutional we are told, but we would also love to go to London, New York and Paris” via stand-alone venues or corners in department stores, he said.

Also today, the designers are relaunching their Web site and e-boutique, which they originally set up in 2010, but ultimately judged “old-fashioned.”

Arickx said he is aiming to double the company’s annual turnover in the next five years, which in 2013 stood at 3.2 million euros, or $4.3 million at average exchange, via expansion of its retail business and women’s wear, doubling the number of what is currently 70 styles per collection within the same time frame.

“With the new investment, we can finally concentrate on the creative part of our business —An on the collections, me on the projects,” he said.

Pierre Cigrang, the Belgian shipping magnate whose family company CLdN injected “a high-six-figure amount” in the Belgian fashion brand in 2013, said “the brand has a very strong style and story, and it has potential; there is more to it than what [you see], that’s a reason for an investor to go in.”

Cigrang, who together with his brother Christian invested in Raf Simons’ namesake label in the Nineties and recently acquired majority stakes in Belgian newcomer and International Woolmark Prize winner Christian Wijnants and Antwerp-based shoe label WHF, is actively shopping for other brands, he divulged.

“We have hired a scout, someone with experience in acquisition and restructuring, to look for opportunities and come back to us with ideas. We are interested in high-end women’s wear brands. The idea is to create a platform that will invest into fashion; it’s surely a different area,” said Cigrang, whose family has been in the sea freight business since 1928 and is currently worth 1 billion euros, or $1.38 billion.

“But we like that. We like dealing with things that fascinate us,” he said, adding that their enterprise has no declared budget for the shopping spree. “There is no urge for speed. We will decide as we go along.”

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