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Feeling slightly uneasy at Walter's
Belgian fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck's shop in the centre of Antwerp is high on the must-see lists of all hot Antwerp guides, so when we walked past it coincidentally, our friend and I wanted to have a look. And I must say: it's quite a special place. From the outside it looked like a ramshackle, industrial garage, but inside it was filled with fashion and beautiful designer furniture from mainly Dutch designers such as Piet Hein Eek and Maarten Baas 
But though the shop was really beautiful and the salespeople relatively friendly (that is: they ignored us in a more or less sympathetic way) there's something that always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable in shops like Walter's, and I'm trying to figure out what that is. Somehow those large, spacious and close-to-empty shops with their exclusive items and strict salespeople always make me feel unwelcome, and I wonder if that's what they aim for and so are doing it on purpose, or that it's just me being over-sensitive.
I know exclusive, artistic brands are all about image and being part of a selective group of very artistic, interesting and -not unimportant- also well-of people, but sometimes I wonder if those target group people really do feel welcome and at home in shops that look more like a (rather undemocratic) museum. I'm always pretty aware that I don't carry a big bag of money with me and don't look like an avantgardist fashion icon when I enter one of those high-end design/fashion shops. Usually the salespeople either ignore you or start treating you in a rather arrogant and unfriendly way, as though you were a little kid with dirty hands who's about to ruin the whole collection. In some places they almost make you feel like they're doing you a favor if you're allowed to buy one of their exclusive products...
This post isn't meant as some Walter van Beirendonck-bashing, cause like I said there's some very beautiful, creative and interesting stuff to see in the shop, and with the sales prices, some of the items even became within reach... Also I realize that special design and fashion objects may need a different setting than the lots of mass-produced stuff in a cheap bazar. I like creative looking shops and I care for aesthetics, but I also like shops to be inviting, and I hate feeling like I'm inside a shop only on sufferance.
Which makes me curious: do you art & design lovers feel welcome and at ease in high end designer stores?
PS Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside, so I only took these few from outside the shop.
PPS There's this really funny sleeping bear sculpture furniture that Walter van Beirendonck designed shown here. For euro 30,000 it can be yours!


on 2009-07-21 23:56
and the salespeople relatively friendly (that is: they ignored us in a more or less sympathetic way)  - this made me laugh out loud in recognition. yes, it does make me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome which are not exactly conjusive to enjoyment as they? but having said that i would still go in those places!
Arya on 2009-07-22 04:27
I agree with you completely -I have encountered snooty salespeople in numerous NYC stores. And it is not just fashion or interior design shops, that arrogant attitude is also on display in fine / gourmet food stores.
Heike on 2009-07-22 08:59
I recognize this so much. I get so embarrassed by these empty stylized places that sometimes I never even enter the shop - even though I may have walked long distances specifically to get to it. I do keep wondering where the line between "desired effect - keeping out unlikely customers" and "intimidating everybody" is.
Eustace on 2009-07-22 09:37
Pull yourself together its a shop, go in look around and enjoy. The staff at Walter are friendly if you talk to them, but yes they know a very small proportion of visitors actually purchase, so they just let you look around. I'd much rather staff said hello and left me too it than followed me about or were over eager at trying to sell to me. If you ask them about the space or products they will be very happy to tell you about it. Unlike many designer stores you have a good chance to meet Walter in his shop or his boyfriend (who clothes the store also sells). Both of whom are helpful and friendly.
madelief on 2009-07-22 09:58
Is it me, or does the sleeping bear look like a giant turd?
Nina on 2009-07-22 13:23
@ Eustace: that's nice to hear, you seem to know the shop better than I do. The phenomenon I describe wasn't specifically directed at Walter van Beirendonck and his shop, it's very well possible that he's a friendly and welcoming person and I really did enjoy the creativity of his shop, but more at the phenomenon of exclusive shops with a certain style and attitude in general. I don't think that the fact thatinexclusive shops alot of people 'areonly visitors thatdon't come to buy' should be a reason to ignore them or behave arrogantly towards them: not only is every visitor a possible client, I also think that being friendly is a normal virtue, and not just one that should be reserved for customers that are about to buy a lot.
@ Madelief: I had to look up in my dictionary what a turd is... I can see what you mean, but it really is a bear! ;)
mieke willems on 2009-07-22 16:53
hee, bij walter zijn ze eigenlijk supervriendelijk! het is ook wel fijn dat je met rust gelaten wordt, niet?  er zijn andere winkels zoals louis of cocodrillo of step by step die me dat gevoel geven, maar bij walter is het wel aangenaam vind ik...  benieuwd naar de andere foto's van onze winkel!!
ourlittlelovenest on 2009-07-22 17:07
Teehee...It is kind of funny to hear someone say exactly what I feel upon entering a shop like that.  It isn't that I would want to be waited on like some rockstar but a friendly smile and warmth with a tinge of personality always makes for a better visit to any shop.  I fully agree kindness and warmth definitely should be virtues we all strive to give out without expecting someone to purchase something from us.  I find that perspective a little funny.   'I will be nice if you buy something from me but other than that ....ugh to you'....what an interesting world that would be.
Beautiful photos! xo
julie on 2009-07-23 10:27
Ik snap volledig wat je bedoelt! Maar waarschijnlijk is het onze eigen schuld dat we ons niet welkom voelen. Ik denk dat het onze eigen onzekerheid is, zo van: ik zie er niet rijk en artistiek genoeguit voor deze winkel... Ach, en misschien hebben wij wel meer vooroordelen tegenover de verkopers en winkels dan zij tegenover ons! Of dat probeer ik mij toch in te prenten wanneer ik toch zulke winkels binnen ga :).
Walter Van Beirendonck on 2009-07-29 19:16
hello,this is walter van beirendonck.
I came across this article and i was really interested by your comments and reactions on my shop.
First about the space.I feel really lucky that i could find such a big,beautifull space in the middle of the city,with the most beautifull light.
When i opened the shop more than 10 years ago,it felt such a luxury to work in this space and give all the collections and objects the required space and atmosphere to perform perfectly.That idea,to give every piece an extra value and importance i kept on using as my guideline through the years.All this collections and objects are rather unique and expensive,and that's why i think that it is important to present them this way.
Ofcourse,i can understand that some of you feel more comfortable in a busy,anonumous,messy shop,where you can hide behind shelves and don't have to have contact with sellingpeople...
but 'feeling comfortable' is not the aim off such a space
i want you to discover new,unexpected,valuable objects and collections,
As you see by the different reactions,it is really depending on how the interaction is with the sellingpeople,how you can feel in 'this kind' of shops.
i agree that it is not easy to find a good balance between being welcoming and kind and keeping a certain distance,but it has a lot to do with the way that the consumer behaves and reacts in such a space.Best is to show intrest,ask questions and talk with the selling people,that's why they are there.Mia,Eiko and Dirk are superkind and helpfull if they are contacted.If not,they try to keep an eye on the visitors,and lett them stroll in the space,
and than say goodbye...
About making pictures in the shop.I hate copy-cats,and as we have regurarly flashes in the changing rooms of people photographing garments on the floor,we prefer to tell to everybody that it is not allowed to make pictures.
But if you are professionally and contact us in advance,proof us that you are working for the press,you are more than welcome to make pictures in the shop or use images from my press-area on my site.
Important is not be narrow minded,and see it from both sides...
and if you really feel uncomfortable every time,don'tgo to this 'kind' of shops
ourlittlelovenest on 2009-07-30 03:44
Nina on 2009-08-02 11:48
Hello Walter,
First of all, thanks a lot for taking the time to comment and share your view. That's really appreciated! I'm currently on holiday in Italy and am just quickly checking in from an internet bar, but I love to get back to the subject a bit more thoroughly when I have the opportunity to write a more elaborate reply.
karin on 2009-08-09 20:59
your Antwerp posts are very nice. I've been there too almost 9 years ago and found it a very inspiring town.
Nina on 2009-08-24 15:48

I still wanted to give a proper reaction to Walter van Beirendonck who took the effort to comment real seriously to this post about his shop. I had a few busy days after coming back from my holiday so it took a while... but here we go!

First of all I was positively surprised to read your comment, Walter. I guess we bloggers often assume that we're just talking into some sort of vacuum, and it's pretty cool to actually be able to interact with the designer you're writing about like this. The fact that you take the time to read, consider and discuss the opinions expressed here makes it clear that you're probably not the kind of designer sitting in his ivory tower looking down on the ordinary shopping people... ;) Which is a nice thing I think.

It's well possible that I've generalized a bit too quickly and have set your shop as an example for a type of shop that it doesn't fully represent. I wanted to address a certain phenomenon and I hope I made it clear that both seller and customer play their part in it. I think psychology and prejudice play a role on both sides. Like you and some other people have commented, some of us may feel uncomfortable or unwelcome easier than others. The feeling of being ‘too much’ in an expensive, spacious shop while being watched by –more or less friendly- shop people may be a personal issue that some suffer from more than others. One can say: that’s just their problem, so don’t visit! But on the other hand I think prejudice also plays it’s part on the side of the shop keeper/assistants. I do feel that they often judge people based on the presumption ‘is this someone who will buy a lot or not?’. I’ve too often seen the attitude of the shop assistants change dramatically when they learnt that I was actually going to buy expensive things: from complete ignoring or snappish ‘be careful with that dress’ and ‘make sure not to drop things on the ground’, they quickly turned to ‘do you want coffee?’, super-friendly behaviour and ‘do you want to become part of our special clients record?’

This is not what happened in your shop Walter, so maybe it’s a bit unfair to relate those experiences to the way I experienced your shop. And in fact I would be happy if you prove me wrong. Cause beauty, creativity and visual inspiration are wonderful things, and it bothers me when I feel they’re only reserved for this little wealthy elite that locks other people –who may sometimes have a more genuine interest in art & creativity- out. So maybe my real issue is that in fact I’m a bit of a communist… ;)

I agree with you that there may be a tension between the way you like to display items –like in large, empty spaces- and the more welcoming/cozy/feel-at-home element. I fully agree that a shop like yours shouldn’t look like a packed grocery store. Some items need more room to breathe than others. But in the end I think it’s more the attitude/atmosphere in a shop that makes people feel welcome than the space. For example I never feel unwelcome in musea that often also consist of large, white-walled empty spaces with only a few pieces of art displayed, probably because I know that my interest in the displayed art is legitimation enough to be welcome. I feel that in a museum it’s about genuine interest in the displayed art, not about belonging to the right subculture or having the money. Maybe that’s a naive view, cause I know that a shop is about making profit and therefore not the same thing as a museum, but it’s what I hope beautiful shops are also about: being welcoming for people with a genuine interest in beauty.

If I’ve been judging your shop and salespeople too quickly then I may have to apologize; on the other hand maybe some of the things you’ve read here may also be useful to you. Cause in the end I think it’s a shame that maybe two-sided prejudice keeps seriously interested people from visiting beautiful design/fashion shops…
cheers, Nina
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About Ninainvorm

My name is Nina, I'm a ceramics and paperwares designer and mom of Rosa and Julie. This blog is about making, living, liking, loving and so much more!

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