Romain Brau and Anna Kushnerova are the dynamic characters behind the hottest new concept store to arrive in the compact fashion capital of Antwerp. In fact, the name, ‘ra’, is from the initials of their names.
Romain Brau trained as a designer at the city’s renowned fashion academy. The shockingly young Mr Brau was a winner of a Tommy Hilfiger Award and already had impressive experiences under his belt – such as a collaboration with Véronique Branquinho- before undertaking the current adventure.
Anna Kushnerova is a Siberian girl, who completed studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, before also studying at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Arts’ famous fashion department, where she met Romain. Now making her own label ‘hide a.h’, she’s an introvert, who aspires to bring wonders to the fashion industry.
Situated on one of the main drags between the historic centre, the fashion district and the museum and gallery district of the south of the city, Ra seems to have found the perfect location since it’s activities connect with all of those of the city in the immediate surrounds. In addition to a boutique that mixes high-end established designers and young talent with interesting objects, music and goodies, the space also houses a cozy café, a gallery space for art projects and an impressive bookstore.
Alive with the vibrant buzz of its youthful team, it’s already become a hangout for those who like to mix top design values with a warm and intelligent atmosphere; Ra makes one feel welcome without the snotty head games so often at work in the world of high fashion.
Clearly not resting on their laurels, Romain and Anna have already pulled Ra into a prestigious category for any concept store: Ra has already undertaken a number of collaborations with respected institutions such as Antwerp’s Fashion Museum, the MoMu.
Ken Pratt visited and posed a few questions….
KP: I remember this place before. My god, it must have been a lot of work to get it to be as it is now. Can you tell us a little about the design process and how you went about achieving it?
RB: Well, it took us a year, first to travel around the best cities to analyze what were already existed in the planet! The feeling to bring something new was crucial to us. Ra is the result of one year of research; from our favourite movies to young artists discovered in our trips, a lot of dreams and fantasy and many contemporary books or exhibitions visited here and there!
AK: We also worked with several artists and designers we found interesting and those who understood and wanted to be involved with our mad idea (check our site for all those who participated at the design stage)
It was a large space to handle, a big project. We were eager to fill the space with our ideas while our construction man, was going crazy with our “weird” ways
KP: As people who were trained as a designers at an academy that is renowned for the way that it mentors designers into having their own strong vision, often going against the tide of trends, I wonder how you approach deciding what goes into the shop’s fashion offer? What’s your philosophy as a buyers or advocates of other designer’s work?
RB: Being at the academy you need to be unique and you really need to sometimes close yourself to the other students. That was my way to survive. I was living in my world and inspirations; once my work was done I was finally trying to open myself again to the work of others. It was so rich for me to realise how everyone is different and honest to himself with his expression through a fashion work!
It’s a feeling that we need when we are planning to buy a designer; this unique thing, this emotion that you get when you understand the story, the atmosphere or the vibe that the designer wants to express.
In Ra we want to propose a large offer of designers, for any age or taste but always fresh and contemporary.
AK: I totally agree, one’s story, it has to touch you. Everyone is unique by nature; those who achieve expressing their world strongly are new and curious to us
The academy years were years of self-exploration and self- indulgence, in a way.
KP: You’ve already made some beautiful collaboration projects such as the silhouette theatre book on Antwerp fashion with the MoMu. Can you tell us how that came about and if there are any more such projects in the pipeline?
RB: We really loved working on this collaboration with the MoMu and Helena Lumelsky! Such a beautiful result; we were really proud! It’s definitely something that we will continue to do with the museum… we are now working on an idea for the Stephen Jones exhibition. And many other collaborations are coming soon, also in Paris. We will organise a pop-up shop in the space of Maria Luisa in Le Printemps and right now we are preparing a few exhibitions of art/fashion for some big cities…. but it’s still a bit secret! Some news will come soon…
AK: We mean to continue working with young designers, giving them a place to be; grow and achieve
KP: Many people come to Antwerp as foreign students at the academy, but relatively few stay here after completing their studies. I’m always a little intrigued by the ones who do. It’s one of those cities that a lot of people find difficult to become a ‘local’. How do you find it living here? What about it works for you?
RB : Well Anna comes from Russia and me from France. I was born in Paris and my heart is still in there! I am a Parisien in Antwerp and it feels super good. I love it! Here, we are between Amsterdam, London, Berlin and Paris. I feel I am away from everything and connected in the same time. Antwerp is amazing for this!
AK: It’s a special city. I’ve lived on four continents during my life, travelled lots… Antwerpen has this special harmony where you can freely exist, create, and reach out to the rest of the world at the same time. It has a high concentration of those who live by and appreciate artistic expression; individuality.
KP: Ra obviously reflects an international flavour and I’m aware that you spend a good deal of time travelling on trips of discovery and to source interesting items. I’m wondering where you are finding interesting fashion and design at the moment. Where are the new hot spots for you personally?
RB: Well London is amazing and will always be. Great design and crazy people! Antwerp academy is a source of amazing stuff. And Paris always gathers many young talents from around the world. But like you say we always travel and we need to check how are things outside of Europe. We found two designers in Singapore a month ago… we organised a China corner after being in Hong Kong because of the cloud!
AK: I agree London is giving good fertile ground for its fashion at the moment.
KP: Any special upcoming projects at Ra that we should all know about?