"A sustainable vision of fashion and business"

The world is changing, that much is clear.  Fashion changes too, just like the way we shop. Change always brings uncertainty and then salvation and perspective may provide the necessary guidance. Hélène Nottebaert of VERTIGO: "Style is timeless and a good, durable outfit is a power booster for the modern man." Bammo!


That last word refers both to the statement made about style and to the wallaby that hops through the house and garden of VERTIGO business owners Hélène and Philippe. "An animal like that keeps both feet on the ground, you know. With five children, a recent move and a preference for animals jumping around, things are rarely boring in the Janssens-Nottebaert house. And certainly not when it comes to talking about retail, shopping and timeless, sustainable, healthy clothing in a clear vision of the future.

Let's get down to business: does your world look different today than it did a year ago?

Hélène: "Fundamentally different? I do not know. Changes do not usually come too suddenly. People hold on to what they know and gradually make adjustments. We have just opened a new VERTIGO shop in Nieuwpoort. We are investing in completely new premises in Waregem. We continue to believe in the physical shopping experience: in Bruges and Sint-Martens-Latem we remain present in the shopping street and in the centre. Within VERTIGO, those physical locations, those retail spaces, our people who welcome the customers there, are still an important pillar. Will all that change? Perhaps the importance of that warm welcome, that cup of coffee, the stylist who shows you the way will increase again once the current situation stabilises? Today we are talking about a moment of crisis, but perhaps the fierce advance of online shopping was the crisis for the retail sector and soon we will see the great return to direct contact and personal advice."

Somehow, 'slow' has been a kind of sinful concept for too long, while slow allows you to taste more and taste better.

Philippe: "One thing is certain: the rat race that dominated society came to a grinding halt on 13 March 2020. During those first few weeks, everyone seemed to catch their breath, so perhaps the need for that pause was there. Of course: the government was still very generous then, the weather pleasant and a little time to throw back on ourselves was good for everyone. Meanwhile, a year has gone by, things are getting seriously annoying and solidarity is decreasing every day. But 'never waste a good crisis'. And I can only speak for the fashion industry with sufficient knowledge and repeat what we with VERTIGO have been saying for more than five years: it's not about four fashion seasons and as many collections per year. It is about timeless pieces, literally and figuratively slower shopping and a sustainable vision of both fashion and business. We have believed that from day one. (Thinks) I especially hope that the rest of the world will soon see that too (laughs)."

Hélène: "We are even more aware of certain things, though. Children, school, plans, health, family... they are all self-evident until they are not. And yes, there may certainly be a greater pursuit of peace in the future. Slowness. In one way or another, 'slow' has been a kind of sinful concept for too long, while slowness allows you to taste more and taste better. Together with 'authenticity' and 'naturalness', 'slowness' forms a new, triple concept. Or rather: not new, but crucial if we want to make something different and better in the future.

In our idea, 'local' is not a place but a vision.  It is about being conscious. 

Is it necessary? Something new?

Hélène: "Isn't it? Are we collectively just going to rush into the next pandemic? Then I would rather argue for a little less and better: more real, more natural and slower. More local, more conscious. Don't turn this into a cramped, old-fashioned thing and it's not about one single aspect. Whether it is shopping, or cooking, or fashion ... these basic principles apply to everything. Take an outfit: everything starts with the natural personality. The outfit that is worn on top of that reinforces the personality, as long as you take the time to make the picture fit. With pure products, natural fibres, pieces that are timeless and just as good."

Philippe: "It's also not because 'local' reminds you of the local church tower that we will all soon have to reach for coarse linen that grows in the local fields here. ‘Local', as a label, as a sign of quality, is in this story synonymous with a more harmonious, sensible, sustainable vision. This is manifesting itself more and more all over the world.

Hélène: "I like to take Fratelli Piacenza as an example: their woollen scarves and gloves have been made in Italy for 14 generations. The first great-great-grandparent of the current managers was an explorer and today they still are. They travel to the Andes, negotiate with the local llama farmers and create a lasting relationship that benefits everyone. In the Andes, in Italy and ultimately here, because you get an honest product. In all openness and transparency, because the raw material of every scarf that comes from Fratelli Piacenza is traceable. You know, so to speak, which animal was shaved on which day to make something. In this idea, 'local' is not a place but a vision. It is about being conscious. In a way that keeps everything in balance. In a way that benefits everyone. More sustainable!"

The biggest fallacy is that you yourself do not benefit from a sustainable approach. Everyone benefits. And let's link that to the concept of 'health' as well.


Philippe: "Something is moving in the fashion sector. ‘Sustainability' is also gaining more meaning with large players. For a while, it was a catch-all term, under which both solar panels and the price of raw materials or planting a tree were put together. This has changed in recent years. There is a growing awareness that we cannot just consume without consequence."

Hélène: "We have always worked from a vision with VERTIGO. The timeless element, not subject to fast fashion, has been part of that for some time. We can focus on this even more clearly. In any case: that is the plan."


In the hard economy and retail, is there enough room for a world-changing vision?

Hélène: "Ah, the biggest fallacy is that you yourself would not benefit from it. Everyone benefits from a more sustainable approach, you know. And let's immediately link the concept of 'health' to that. In the broadest possible sense. Actually, it's not that difficult: we need to go back to the roots a little more often. To the basics. What were clothes originally used for?

Uh … 

Hélène: "Clothing had to protect us from the elements. That original function has partially disappeared, but we have now reached the point that, in certain cases, they even harm us. Our skin is a large organ and works like a sponge. Clothes that are chemically treated, or coloured and washed in an aggressive, unnatural way, are a real assault. Not only during the production process but also on a daily basis. We all need to be more aware of this. Where does something come from? How is it made? Who is involved? The fibres used, the origin of what we buy and wear, the impact. This brings us back to the traceability of Fratelli Piacenza, but also to authenticity and naturalness.

Philippe: "More awareness also leads to greater value. Something becomes more valuable if there is a story attached to it, if - as the word says - certain values are linked to it."

Is VERTIGO 2.0 coming?

Hélène: "For us, this is certainly not a 180-degree turn. With FIGLIO, our house brand, we have always resolutely opted for natural, genuine and 'consubstantial' materials and pieces. Studio VERTIGO, by Hélène' has been around for a few years now and is slow shopping at its best. With VERTIGO, we look beyond 'tomorrow' from the start. Beyond what is visible. We work with ideas and with perception. We also work with values. We can certainly emphasise these, or emphasise them further, but we must not reinvent ourselves in this respect. It can only benefit the ultimate style of the man because style is timeless and - much more than the fashion of the moment - the sum of those values."