Can you believe I had never been to Amsterdam? I grew up a two-hour train ride away, across the border from Holland and not once made it there. I guess the city never really had a strong appeal to me. In my mind it was just like Ghent, with the same canals, architecture and folklore. The only difference was the legal supply of marihuana and the Dutch speaking people. And even that isn’t so unusual anymore because weed is legal in Belgium too now and the Dutch have planted themselves very comfortably in our tax paradise – go shopping in Knokke for the afternoon and you’d think you were in Holland. Plus, Flemish (what we speak in half the country) is a dialect of Dutch, so we understand each other perfectly, just like the English and Americans do. Sort of.
I had planned to shoot An Oost for a while but rather than take her shopping in Belgium – I have covered most of Flanders now – I thought we should take a trip to Amsterdam instead, right after London Fashion Week, kill two birds with one stone sort of speak. An and I became friends when I had already moved to New York. I was working as Craig McDean’s Studio Manager when the Belgian model invasion started, some time around 1999. An Oost and Anouck Lepere were two of the first girls to appear on the scene and create this exciting new buzz. The Belgian girls were boyish, funny and incredibly cool. An had been on my radar for a while, but as it goes, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. One day Craig was off to a casting meeting for a TSE Cashmere ad campaign but right before he walked out the door I ran to dump An’s portfolio in his hands, on top of the stack already there. I insisted he take a chance on the new girl. And the rest is history. She nailed the campaign and became a superstar.
An is a mom of two now. She quit modeling when she got pregnant with Holly three years ago. And her son Oscar is about seven months old. Together with her husband Matthieu, she runs a popular, modern Bed & Breakfast in a beautiful 19th Century building on the Leie river in Ghent. Just recently she started designing a collection of unisex children’s clothing which incorporates the drawings of Ghent graffiti artist Bue (http://toykyokids.be/). Her husband also runs a design and book store. “I don’t miss modeling,” she vows. “I do miss traveling and the friends I made, but I am happy now starting up these new ventures and making them grow. It gives me much more satisfaction than a job where everything is prepped and pampered for you.”
Amsterdam was foggy, wet and grey. (Yep, also just like Ghent!) Less than ideal weather to shop, let alone do a photo shoot. But we figured we’d replace the missing sun with our stylish imagination and let the clothes shine instead. The first day we walked around in the ‘Negen Straatjes’ area, a grid of tiny, cobble stone streets split up by a few canals (or “grachten”), with tons of interesting shops, cafes and restaurants. We found Zipper in the Huidenstraat, a vintage store with another affiliate in the Nieuwe Hoogstraat, that stocks mostly 60’s and 70’s cheap thrills (above). My vote for best vintage store in Amsterdam goes to Laura Dols. The delightful owners have two insanely colorful and inspiring locations opposite of each other in the Wolvenstraat. We spent hours in there! I found an amazing feather coat for €85 and An got wool pleated pants (“they were the missing link in my wardrobe!”), a cashmere sweater (which she is proudly wearing in her Facebook profile picture), a Prada-esque 50’s dress that fit like a glove, some undergarments and a lace T-shirt “that I know I will wear to death this summer”. The sales girls at the counter had no clue we understood Dutch and started complaining about us after a couple of hours. Even though we spent quite a lot of money in there….
An used to go vintage shopping a lot. Modeling took her to different parts of the world and there was always the motivated stylist to go shopping with. “My best pieces are vintage. I’ve never been one to spend a lot of money on clothes, except shoes or handbags,” she admits. “I don’t even buy designer vintage, but the pieces remain in my closet and part of my daily dressing routine. I never get tired of them.” An’s sense of style has a modest quirkiness to it and fluctuates between comfortable street style and pretty 60’s dresses. She still has that tomboy inclination, especially now with her short hair cut, but her motivation to dress down stems from a need for comfort as a career mom and the fact that in Belgium not many people wear heels or dresses on a daily basis, something I personally find one of the main reasons I could never live there anymore. “I would move away just for some sun! I love everything about Belgium, except the climate, our priests and politicians…”
The second day we did the vintage tour of Amsterdam on bicycles, truly the most effective and fun means of transportation. Petit Salon in the Oude Spiegelstraat is a well-edited consignment store with designers ranging from surprising 80’s Comme des Garcons and Margiela to label-less vintage. Lady Day in the Hartenstraat is great for cheap and wearable finds. Jenny De Jager has three annex stores in the St. Antoniebreestraat, one with shoes and fur hats, one with not so interesting women’s and men’s second-hand but the coolest one is the army and navy stock where I bought army green cavalry pants and navy blue wool customs pants with a red stripe down the side. Coincidently (or not) I saw both styles show up on the Louis Vuitton runway two weeks later! I guess we were in sync, Marc!
I decided Amsterdam is not like Ghent, or any other city in the world for that matter. It’s quaint, cozy and effortless. I can only imagine what it would be like in summer when the roads are dry and the canals are glistening in the sunlight.