Ilse Cornelissens and Tim Van Geloven’s concept store Graanmarkt 13 began with the building: only once the premises were perfect could the business of curating a vision begin. For Cornelissens, who focuses on small brands founded by daring, imaginative creatives, serendipity plays a part too, with one fortuitous encounter leading to another. Here, she explains her philosophy.
Both Ilse Cornelissens and her partner, Tim Van Geloven, were 27 when they upped sticks from Amsterdam to Ilse’s hometown, Antwerp, in the late 2000s with the mission of opening a concept store. They found a five-storey townhouse and enlisted Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen to convert the building with his signature flair. They then proceeded to fill every floor with gems from the worlds of fashion, interior design, food and cosmetics. The name was provided by the address: Graanmarkt 13. It opened in 2010. As well as a multitude of collaborations with brands and people who share their vision, the venture
has also launched a restaurant, a chic apartment to rent on the top floor and now a collection of outerwear, Kassl Editions. Here, Cornelissens talks about discovery, collecting people and plans for a sister shop in Amsterdam. k
Bringing things and people together is my big dream. I lived in Paris for a year during my law studies. I was 23 and fascinated by [Colette co-founder] Colette Roussaux’s idea of a multi-brand shop. She has had a lasting influence on me.
It all started with the house. And with Vincent Van Duysen, the architect who converted it for us. We learned so much from him; he taught us his values and
his awareness of what quality means. We developed our taste with him. The people he introduced us to have been instrumental in transforming Graanmarkt 13 into what it is today. That list includes art director and scenographer Bob Verhelst and Base Design, the firm that’s behind our communication strategy. They created a world for us to fill with our ideas.
Seven years ago, we made an important decision: we would no longer do a seasonal sale. On that occasion, we got rid of some big brands, such as Marni and Isabel Marant, which were always reduced at the end of the season by our competitors. Since then we have had more small brands and more from the surrounding area, which fits better with our philosophy. Now we carry brands that release editions, rather than just those that launch seasonal collections. Some are genderless and sizeless too.
When I’m looking for new brands,
I look for like-minded people. Most of the people I have worked with have become friends over the years. For example, in
2017 there was an exhibition on Martin Margiela at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp. Margiela happened to bump
into his former collaborator Camille Serra and said to me, “If you’re ever looking
for a designer, ask Camille.” A week later, Bart Ramakers of fashion agency Parrot called me and said that he wanted to start
a coat collection with us and a few others. Suddenly we needed a designer! So, Camille Serra designed the first Kassl Edition. There is something magical about the way in which one thing leads to another; talents find
each other and encounters suddenly make sense. This house connects more people than you might think. That might sound spiritual but it’s how I feel.
The person behind a brand counts. They have to reach me, like designer and jeweller Samuel Gassmann. He came to us one summer day. I don’t usually like it when someone arrives unannounced and puts a suitcase of products on the counter. But it was different with him. We sat in the garden and he talked for three hours about the cufflinks that he makes. I found it fascinating.
Though my days are often a little too full, I dedicate a lot of time to buying. I give it my full attention; I don’t answer the phone and don’t read the news. One of the difficulties of buying is limiting yourself. Otherwise the “something” gets lost in the “everything”. But “less is more” can be difficult too. We’ve just added Manasi 7, a Scandinavian cosmetics line, even though we don’t have any space. I’d looked at the brand for two years
and finally couldn’t resist.
Telling beautiful stories in large spaces is, for me, the future of retail. We clear the space on a weekend in winter for Extreme Cashmere, a brand that does oversized, unisex and non-seasonal knitwear. In summer we do the same for Bernadette, a duo who design beautiful floral dresses.
A buyer needs instinct and a good nose.
My talent is bringing people together. My strength is in mathematics, structure and putting puzzle pieces in the right place; there’s a creative component to this.
Normally I don’t think about a particular customer when I’m buying. But if it’s a piece that I really want to buy, I think about the kind of person who would definitely buy it. That’s possibly a justification strategy for an unreasonable order.
I rarely visit workshops. One exception is Sam Cruden’s atelier in Rotterdam. She knows everything about denim. I’ve been wearing jeans from her label for seven years.
I don’t buy fashion. I buy materials that feel good and are made into wearable garments with simple cuts. Our customers are informed and confident people, who know what they want and where they want to go.
Antwerp is an underrated city. The cost of living is comparatively low, which leaves a lot of room for creativity. It gives you time and that’s a great opportunity. The city has made this shop what it is. Things can grow organically here and, thanks to the Flemish textile tradition, there’s a high awareness of quality. The building has shaped us.
Graanmarkt 13 is a house of talent.One of our more recent discoveries is Auralee, a Japanese brand that touched me emotionally with its attention to detail. It has the potential to become as important as Sofie D’Hoore for us.
I used to travel to Paris four times a
year, Milan twice and London once. Now, because of the way we buy, it’s enough for me just to go to Paris twice a year. Tim
and I used to travel together a lot but since we’ve had the children, we divide the trips.
In Paris I like to walk through the Cour Carrée du Louvre at night. You almost feel as though you’re in a painting there. Septime, near the Marais, is my favourite place for dinner and I often go to Le Loir dans la Théière for brunch. When I’m in Milan I eat at Langosteria. Visits to
the Rossana Orlandi Gallery and the Nilufar Depot are also always on the agenda. In Berlin I visit Andreas Murkudis. I would definitely like to try Ernst or its brother restaurant, Julius. Otherwise, I like Clärchens Ballhaus for eating and dancing. In Antwerp I’m fond of Atelier Solarshop, which has beautiful interior design objects from Japan.
One advantage of our family business?
Our children learn early on that if you work hard, you can achieve a lot. The disadvantage is that you can never switch off completely.
On a plane, I need only three things. A blanket, sleeping goggles and a neck pillow, all from the Extreme Cashmere collection.
My favourite pieces from Graanmarkt 13?
The pitcher by Cristaseya and Jean-Philippe Sanfourche and the Ripple Lamp by Lobmeyr. We’re thinking about opening a shop in Amsterdam. But it will be different. Graanmarkt 13 cannot be copied. They will be like siblings who have the same parents
but different talents and characteristics.