As the CEO of Antwerp-based fashion house BVBA 32, Anne Chapelle has Ann Demeulemeester, Haider Ackermann and other renowned names under her wing. She calls herself a 'born entrepreneur'. What’s her take on the Belgian fashion sector?

Anne Chapelle

Anne Chapelle © Ans Brys

Anne Chapelle gets straight to the point: “Fashion is a very dynamic, but also very demanding industry that is laden with financial pitfalls. I wish I could say that the Belgian fashion industry is in good health, but I can’t. Especially retail is struggling to cope with the current economic and political climate in Belgium and abroad. Today’s consumer does not have a very positive outlook. And understandably so. When it’s cold, you zip up your coat to block the wind. It’s the same thing with your wallet. In addition, practically the entire production aspect has disappeared from our country. Every day there’s a company somewhere that’s going out of business. And the buyers aren’t exactly lining up. These days, people prefer developing apps to running a factory. It takes courage to do the latter.”

“If you want to keep your head above water, you need a vision and tons of passion. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t last.”

Yet that doesn’t mean there is no room for newcomers. Quite the contrary. “In this business, everything depends on how brave and how patient you are. Young people nowadays are used to getting everything in the blink of an eye. But fashion is a trade that takes time. You need a strong vision and you need to stick to it. Otherwise you don’t stand a single chance. And you have to be brave to respect your own uniqueness and to tell your own story.” 

© Ans Brys

“Every euro requires respect. They don’t teach that in school. You need to survive at least two or three collections before you see a return.”

Anne Chapelle once said that she would never team up with someone straight out of college, because they still have to learn the ins and outs (and the traps) of the fashion industry. “Fashion takes a lot of money. Especially if you keep production here in Europe. Costs are our biggest enemy. Young designers have to learn how to keep that aspect in check, or they won’t make it. Money doesn’t grow on trees. There is always someone who has worked for it – and that goes for the investor too. They sometimes forget that.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that Belgian fashion’s reputation in the world is as solid as a rock. “The appreciation for Belgian fashion mainly has to do with perception. Over the last twenty years, we have been writing our own strong story and creating something that’s so visual that it is being perceived as a Belgian wave. Like the renaissance of minimalism in architecture, we have managed to create a movement. It is all related to who we are, how we were raised and where we live. Belgians are perfectionists. Whether we design a chair, a table or a piece of clothing. We believe in what we do. I think that’s where our authenticity lies.”