We at Bidules are a curious kind. As you know, when it comes to our frames, we like to dig deep. And it was no different when we chose our beloved Rue Ravenstein store.
The longer we stay, the more we discover about our building, our neighbours, and its incredible place in history. So let us take you with us on a tour of our archives, to explore the hidden secrets behind the facade.
In the centre of Brussels, our store sits sandwiched between two of Victor Horta’s creations – the Central Station and BOZAR the Centre for Fine Arts (Palais des Beaux-Arts/Paleis voor Schone Kunsten), one of the most famous modern cultural venue in Europe. Horta’s plan for the area at the time was deemed by many to be crazy – with even the King requesting that his work be limited in height, as to not spoil the royal view of the city he had from the Palace.
Our building, Siège des Assurances Générales de Trieste was designed by Alexis Dumont (Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, 1877) in 1936, with Gallerie Ravenstein at the heart (the mall linking ville haute and ville basse) lending its name to the street.
It’s a strange neighborhood. Where innovators, artists, bankers and bureaucrats (the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control is located just above us!) sit shoulder to shoulder, alongside the busiest train station in Belgium. An area where these Horta creations – modern survivors of the second world war – coexist with the concrete giants of the brutal Bruxellization of the 60s-70s. Alexis Dumont is the guy behind many urban landmarks across Brussels, and our building surely doesn’t look out of place against his other creations. You’ve likely seen his Citroën building on Place de l’Yser – with its similar functionalist 30s aesthetic, now the controversial KANAL – Centre Pompidou. This inter-war period of modern architecture is distinguished by curved lines, enormous windows, and the harsh juxtaposition of iron and glass.
It had always been a strange place, We’ve been told by locals that back in the early 2000s, you’d often see debauched white-collars emerging from the closed curtains of the champagne bars to catch their trains to their wives in the suburbs.
Legend has it that the bronze sculpture in the centre of the gallerie, “L’enlèvement d’Europe” (Olivier Strebelle, 1954) was stolen in 2006.
Fun fact: our store, number 44, has the largest windows in the whole building, alongside the classic solid iron chassis. At the time, it was probably the largest window with a single pane of glass in the whole city. Another fun fact: before Bidules, the spot was a Vietnamese spa, which became pretty clear when we discovered the outlines of jacuzzis in the basement. Oh, and there’s still a hell of a lot of mirrors…though perhaps those are from the China Eastern Airline office. One thing’s for sure, we definitely still have all the pipes to reinstall a spa.
Just before us, it was an art gallery. Well, like a lot of the surrounding spaces, it’s been many galleries over the last ten years. Richard Venlet, architect and artist, gave the space its final minimalist restorations, details which we fell in love with when we first laid eyes on the store. He created the all-white ceiling and mezzanine level, which we now use as our office and storage. We paid a last homage to this with the Prends soin de Toi exhibition, bridging the gap ahead of our opening.
Speaking of art, let’s also take a moment to imagine the great Vincent Glowinski suspended from ropes, risking his life in the dead of night, painting that big ol’ dinosaur skeleton above us, which mocks us from its pedestal.
We were doing a little research, going through our archives on the district, and in this photo, our eyes were drawn to this display on our big brother, Bozar. It’s probably because the gallery still uses this spot to announce its exhibitions today, and we’re often told of their upcoming shows and events from the doorstep of our store. It gave us the same reflex, the same ‘who’s this?’
Back then, Pierre Alechinsky was in fact advertising the opening of the first Belgian Europalia exhibition, which took place from mid-September to December in 1980. It welcomed over a million visitors across over a thousand events. Here’s a few pics of the exhibition from the eighties, if you fancy geeking out. It’s now bi-annual, so be sure to check out the exhibition in 2021, and whilst you’re there, why not try the food by our neighbour and good friend, Stefano, Head Chef at VICTOR Bozar cafe?
EUROPALIA BELGIUM 1980
18 09 › 09 12 1980
1 148 352 visitors / 1050 events
We chose our Bidules store to be in the centre of it all, side-by side with the weird and the wonderful – with its seedy afterwork bars side-by-side with great institutions, deep roots and historical monuments. It had just enough space and undefined edges to establish our own voice – somewhere underrated glasses, laughter and legendary hangovers could meet.
But we’ll let you into a little secret. Now that we’ve set down some roots, we’re ready for our next step…
Bring on 2021.