Made in BXL

Brussels mag N°16

Dossier

MADE IN BXL
A subliminal appellation d’origine

TEXT MARIE HONNAY

What do the firms Fabienne Delvigne,
Vervloet
and Dandoy have in common?
These three establishments cultivate the concept Made in Bruxelles, a label that demonstrates
the vivacity of a capital city which maintains
its creativity, with a tinge of folly that has
great appeal on the export market.

A part of our national pride, a vector for jobs and a showcase for our national excellence, Made in Bruxelles has remained discreet for a long time, even too discreet perhaps. In recent years, Brussels’ most dynamic players have nevertheless understood the importance of developing a commercial and communications strategy that focuses on the international market. Their new credo: making sure that they are visible but without distancing themselves from the values that define them: a sense of reserve, the absence of ostentation and an attachment to their roots. The difference between overall luxury and the luxury that is developed every day by the capital’s establishments means that in Brussels, luxury is not defined simply by a logo. Discreet and yet nuanced, it is nevertheless neither austere nor boring. It is often even light-hearted and whimsical, such as creations in felt, velvet or angora, trimmed with ribbons or tulle. More often than not, these creations are made-to-measure with a veritable couture approach, for example, the hats designed by Fabienne Delvigne. Following the example of Monaco, the establishment’s best-seller is a large wide-brimmed hat with an upturned brim, created in the workshop of this milliner, the darling of several royal families. For this creator of accessories, the Brussels identity is far from being a vague marketing concept, “I have always felt that I belong to Brussels”, she states. Rather than immersing himself in sterile chauvinism, according to Fabienne Delvigne, the typical Belgian will seek inspiration in everything that he or she sees and feels, here and elsewhere. “It could be a beautiful Brussels Art Nouveau or Art Deco house, one of my favourite trends, or even something quite different. We are sponges, but also incredible perfectionists. The lack of artifice in our creations forces us to work using the most beautiful materials, as well as paying great attention to cutting and finishing. My work as a milliner is a balancing act. I am both sculptor and architect. Just a few millimetres are enough to upset the harmony of a hat”, she explains. Creative Director at Delvaux, Christina Zeller also cultivates this Belgitude, “our goal is not to be fashionable, but rather to aim for innovation. And it is precisely this innovation coupled with the talent of our craftsmen that gives a veritable modernity to our establishment. In Delvaux’s Arsenal atelier, it takes an average of approximately 10 hours to fashion a handbag”, she explained to us. While continuing to cultivate their Brussels base, the leather goods manufacturer is nevertheless focussed on its international growth objectives. Their goal is to perpetuate their export sales, currently estimated at 85%, compared with just a few percent less than 10 years ago.

The price of craftsmanship

Although the very excellence of Made in Bruxelles has a price – that of the dozens, or even hundreds of hours needed to make a handbag or a designer article – it is also the purveyor of dreams. At the Natan boutique, this dream takes on the form of a couture line, the showcase of an establishment that capitalises more than ever on its Brussels foothold. And to make this more tangible, Edouard Vermeulen, founder of Natan, can now also count on Atelier II, a couture house located at Place Brugmann, Ixelles. Here, the head of the atelier guides the team of 5 (pattern cutters and couturiers) who are responsible for making the gowns and outfits ordered by Natan’s couture clients. The Brussels ateliers continue to exercise a fascination, that is certain. This infatuation with the craftsmen of our capital is even increasing. “When we open the doors of our
atelier, the public is very numerous: Belgians, proud to wear clothing signed by the creators of our capital city, as well as a multitude of tourists who are enthusiastic about our accessories, but who also want to see behind the scenes. We receive an increasing number of requests from organisers of luxury tours who would like to show their clients the universe of Brussels’ creativity. On the one hand, we are flattered – in fact, it is about time that we highlight our savoir-faire – but given our size, it is sometimes difficult to follow up on all these requests”
, states Fabienne Delvigne. Is it because it is as precious as it is fragile that this universe is so fascinating? Probably, however, it is more and more difficult to find young graduates ready to enter the couture professions. So, in order to perpetuate this savoir-faire and avoid its disappearance, the Brussels fashion establishments are trying to recruit new talent right from the source. Thus, Delvaux is collaborating with the Brussels École des Arts & Métiers by offering students internships in fine leather crafts, indispensable for training future Delvaux craftsmen and encouraging vocation. Unique in Belgium, this training to become a worker in fine leather goods – a 3-year course recognised by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation – is an imperative pathway to building the Made in Bruxelles of tomorrow.

The flavour of Made in Bruxelles

As ancient as Delvaux (the two companies were founded in 1829), the Brussels biscuit-maker Dandoy also proclaims its local approach. Guarantors of this tradition, Alexandre and Antoine Helson (seventh-generation Dandoy) are fully aware of the importance of communicating a message in line with the fundamental values of their company. Industrialisation is an ugly word that the pair intends to continue banishing from their vocabulary. And although several years ago, the management of the family biscuit-making business had envisaged leaving Brussels to promote their development ambitions, finally, they changed their mind. Their credo: local and traditional, chic and trendy. This is demonstrated by the recent partnership between Dandoy and the Belgian ceramics atelier Pierre Culot. The milk bowl developed through this alliance (a ceramic recipient designed to dip a biscuit in at tea-time) shows, more than a long speech, the importance that Dandoy gives to the value of luxury craftsmanship. Yet a company does not necessarily have to be more than a hundred years old (this year, Dandoy and Delvaux are celebrating their 190th anniversary) to become a worthy ambassador of Brussels savoir-
faire. This is demonstrated by the existence of another biscuit maker established in the capital. They are active in a somewhat different category: Generous (a name that pays homage to the welc
oming and kindly nature of Belgians) has an atelier located in Anderlecht where they produce organic and gluten-free biscuits based on raw materials that, for the most part, are produced locally and are offered in attractive, fun and quirky packaging. Moving towards a more well-thought-out dietary system is another of the important issues of Made in Bruxelles. Damien Bouchéry, founder of the Bouchéry restaurant, adheres to the Good Food Strategy, along with a handful of other
establishments in the capital. This is an initiative supported by the
regional government, aimed at encouraging various concrete actions including sustainable self-production. But in Brussels, when it is a question of gastronomy, what is good and what is local often flirt with a fresh, playful and generous approach to the concept of regional. Hence Pistolet Original: an establishment that, before many others, understood the importance of setting store by belonging to a region rich in tradition. Based on the small round roll with a dent in the centre (quintessentially typical of the Brussels region in the most etymological meaning of the term), Valérie Lepla, the founder of
Pistolet Original, favours local recipes (some of which are based on 100%-Brussels products, such as Gueuze from Cantillon, the last Lambic brewery in the capital), but also on attractive and quirky packaging. And to make a success of all this, Valérie Lepla has multiplied
her partnerships, for example, the arrangement initiated with the Brussels bakery Yves Guns who makes the famous rolls, as well as with various chefs, some of whom have been awarded Michelin stars, such as Pierre Wijnants, who believe in this Brussels attitude just as much as she does.

Haut les Coeurs (long live flowers!)

With regard to luxury craft items, it is obvious that in Brussels beauty rhymes with sympa; chic with solidarity; luxury with welcome;
and high-end items with family. It is certainly not the management of Savonneries Bruxelloises who would argue with this. For more than a century, this company had been working behind the scenes producing soaps for several different brands, and now they have decided to make themselves known by presenting their own range of products. It is in rue Tollenaere, Laeken, in the north of Brussels, a district that in the past had several soap factories, where the company is continuing to perpetuate a savoir-faire that is slowly disappearing. Today, almost 80% of the production of Savonneries Bruxelloises is exported, and yet the spirit of the company remains familial and the packaging is … very Belgian. Indeed, Brussels quality has much appeal, especially when the image is enhanced. This is the case for Dandoy. In 2015, at the instigation of Alexandre Helson, the centenarian biscuit-making company completely revamped its logo, packaging and the typo-
graphy of all its communication material. Their image was reinvented by the Brussels studio Base Design
who had also worked on the image of Delvaux and Maison Vervloet, another showcase of Brussels savoir-faire in the sector of artistic wrought ironwork which, and this is not surprising, also makes most of its turnover from exports. At Maison Vervloet, every piece is made by hand in Brussels, based on projects entrusted to Belgian designers: Jean-François d’Or or Nathalie Dewez, a Belgian talent whose luminous creations have already adorned, among others, the shop windows of Hermèsflagship store in Paris; it is not by chance that the Hermès brand tends to be compared with Delvaux. Preferring local products by obtaining supplies from local producers and creating beauty without leaving the capital is also the path that Amandine Mazier has chosen to follow. She is the creator of a concept of putting together and delivering floral bouquets, called Haut les Cœurs. This former journalist proclaims Made in Bruxelles, she cultivates it and sublimates it by multiplying her collaboration with a handful of fine establishments for whom she creates and develops bouquets that are as sublime as they are ethical. Among her clients are the Amigo Hotel and the Brussels Fine Art Fair; two excellent showcases that demonstrate what Brussels can offer, which is generating great admiration both near and far.

As for we Belgians, the strength of our creative approach lies in our ability to disregard any and all barriers.- Fabienne Delvigne, creator of accessories