Inge Onsea is the creative director of Belgian fashion label Essentiel Antwerp. The former fashion model launched the brand in 1999 with her husband, Esfan. What started as a simple t-shirt collection has since grown into a fully fledged ready to wear collection for men and women.
Essentiel is well known for its fun, colourful prints, statement jackets and easy separates. Essentiel now has stores worldwide including in France and Korea. Essentiel launched in the UK in 2012 and now has over 50 stockists including Harvey Nichols and Anthropologie. The mother of two spends much of her year travelling, visiting manufacturers and distributors and constantly searching for inspiration. Inge’s time at home is split between Antwerp where they have recently renovated the former French consulate and their second home in the fashion seaside town of Knokke.
Can you please tell us the story behind the formation of your fashion label Essentiel Antwerp?
I really wanted to enjoy myself, have fun and feel the sense of youthful exuberance and liberation that I felt in my twenties – in particularl when it came to travel. However, I believed that Esfan and I needed some direction in our lives together, so it made sense that we should pursue something we have in common in terms of this industry. It seemed a perfect fit for both of us given my modelling past and the fact that he was also inspired by fashion from an early age as the son of Nicole Cadine.
How has Essentiel Antwerp grown since its inception?
Esfan and I began Essentiel Antwerp 17 years ago with four T-shirts that were released in many, numerous different colours. We had quite finite resources back then, but we were both very passionate about this fledgling venture and were very fortunate that our friends were so supportive and helped out as and when they could. We sold everything from our flat and, while it was by and large an enjoyable experience as things were going quite well, we spent every single hour of the day working – of course there were one or two arguments along the way.
We participated in exhibitions in Brussels and Paris at the turn of the century and the feedback we received from them was absolutely amazing. I also recall receiving a substantial order from a woman in Dubai around that time.
The range of our collection has broadened out considerably since our early days to include other prints, patterns and materials and it is now sold in 1,000 outlets worldwide and contains no less than 600 references.
How would you define the Essentiel Antwerp brand?
We are very passionate about everything we do and we therefore like to put a real zest in our collections and stores. We also occasionally throw in the odd ‘shock’ here and there and that sense of surprise is reflected in the way we run our office, which never gets dull as a wonderful chaos exists there.
Antwerp obviously has a strong presence in your brand as it has been incorporated into its very name. What do you find inspiring about the Belgian city in particular?
I honestly find just as much inspiration from our many trips abroad, including this one of course, as I do when I’m in Antwerp.
Nonetheless, I find that Antwerp has an inertia and momentum all of its own; it moves a lot – both in terms of the arts and fashion. There are some really talented fashion-minded people back home in Belgium.
How would you describe an Essentiel customer and what differentiates your brand from other such fashion labels?
The Essentiel woman doesn’t abide by conformity and she doesn’t try to blend in or stick to the rules. She – as we are – is passionate, likes colours and prints and has her own distinct and unique style.
Similarly, we may broadly follow particular themes or specific trends at Essentiel Antwerp, yet we like to stay loyal and true to what marked us out as distinctive in the first place and not simply follow the crowd. We’re not trying to replicate what everyone else is doing.
Tell us about your very latest collection – SS16 Flash?
This line has a tropical theme, with an eclectic mix of typically African prints that channel a warm Brazilian breeze, warm Cuban hospitality or New York ease depending upon the specific occasion.
There’s also a vast array of surprising colour combinations - cola, deep green and mustard are entwined alongside pink, velvet soft blue and fresh white tones. Fiery byzantine purple also blends in with natural caramel colours.