Antwerp boutique Verso has, for nearly two decades, been a destination for the well-heeled shopper. Set in a beautifully restored 16th century mansion which once housed some of the country’s most distinguished families and notable banks, Verso stocks brands as far-ranging as Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino and Givenchy. As the newest retailer partner for the International Woolmark Prize, Verso creative director Valere Thoelen took time out to speak with us about her approach to fashion, and what makes the Belgian customer unique.
For you as a buyer, what makes a young designer stand out?
We know our customers and can predict what appeals to them from the established lines. With young designers it is always a challenge to visit their showrooms and select items that can be combined, so emotion plays a big part in this selection. Our clients come to us for the established brands, but at the same time they want us to keep them surprised. It’s fun to work with new labels and to keep a fresh outlook on fashion.
You will in the year ahead stock the International Woolmark Prize winning collection. What encouraged you to join the prize as a retail partner?
We love challenges. By being a Woolmark Prize retailer we can discover new, interesting labels that might not come to our attention otherwise. Being an exclusive retailer is also important as our clients expect to find items with us that cannot be bought everywhere.
How do you see designers using wool in their collections? Is it becoming more common?
Wool has never been absent from designer fashion and remains a staple. I don’t know any high-end collections that don’t use wool. The advantage is its versatility, from very fine to coarse. It can be used in summer and winter, seasons disappear. A winter coat will always be in style, but what we wear underneath can be trans-seasonal.
Which labels, small or big, are on your radar right now as being very creative, and why are they appealing?
For womenswear I like Marni. Its use of materials, feeling for colour and innovative shapes makes it a perfect brand for us. Juun.J is a menswear brand that shows a new approach in urban wear with its mix of different proportions.
How is the Belgian customer different? What do they look for when they’re shopping?
The Belgian, or rather Flemish, customer leans towards Italian style. They embrace the new, but don’t exaggerate. They keep a certain chic allure. They will buy expensive products with a sense of balance between the price on one side and style and quality on the other. Paying a high price is OK, but the product needs to be worth it.
See highlights from the International Woolmark Prize menswear final at Pitti Uomo in Florence