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BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Brussels might not have the couture cachet of London, Paris or Milan, but a small group of avant-garde fashionistas is giving the Belgian capital an underground designer edge.
Using unusual and even surreal spaces such as thrift shops, a bakery, a bicycle repair shop and a former electricity power plant to show their work, the young designers and design students are giving Brussels a fashion buzz.
"In Brussels, what is unique is Brussels itself," said Veronique Heene, the coordinator of Modo Brussels Fashion Designers Trail, a bi-annual fashion and art exhibition.
"It's a small town. It's not a big, big town. It's a mix of culture, really an international city even if it's a small city, and many people are coming from elsewhere."
La Centrale Electrique, the first electricity plant in Brussels, is the starting point of the trail, which leads throughout the city's downtown and the funky Rue Dansaert district, taking in 60 exhibition spaces.
In the vast Centrale Electrique, at the end of a neon-yellow hall, a single mannequin stands decked out in electric-bright yellow neon. In an adjoining room, a crowd of mannequins are dolled up like sea creatures, one like a jellyfish, another a seahorse, still others like cascades of water and fire.
An ensemble near the entrance looks like a sequined dragon. It only uses two colors, green and gold, but the light reflecting off the sequins gives off a rainbow of colors.
Scattered along the route are boutiques and galleries displaying art, photographs, paintings, graphic designs and even studios for DJs to "show" their audio work, making the fashion trail a multimedia design experience.
Some exhibits and art spaces will be open just for a few days, while others will remain open for several weeks.
"The students try to go out of what you expect, and after that, they find a sort of liberty. After that, they can find their own style. They can find what they like, how they will work," Heene said of one design school's exhibit.
Stores along the route stay open late for the duration of the exhibition, receiving visitors who pay 8 euros ($11.23) for a ticket to follow the trail in whatever order they want.
"It's very special that this shop is open on a Sunday," said Kitty Sokal of Brussels, who picked her way through a flurry of venues.
Her first stop was the workshop of Christophe Coppens, which sells hats and other accessories, where Sokal picked up a funky black knitted hat.
"It's like something you put on a teapot," she said. "It's very warm -- it's creative -- and the textures are very nice. You see three layers, and if you feel, it's very soft."
Emilie Beaumont, who left design school three years ago, chose a bicycle shop, which was formerly a cinema, as the setting for her first collection of men's clothes.
"It's historic, and it's good for events because there's a lot of space. Now it's a bicycle shop where you can repair your bicycle. I find it was nice to have a man's collection in a bicycle shop because my clothes are more street," she said.
Beaumont drew the inspiration for her collection from superheroes. The coats resemble capes with all the folds of fabric, and the shirt designs look like the lines of muscles.
This is Modo Brussels' 10th fashion designers' trail. While it happens every two years at the moment, such is its popularity that organizers are hoping to make it an annual event.
Heene said the event is designed to appeal to anyone who has even a passing interest in fashion.
"It's an interesting event because the professionals, the journalists and the public, even my mother, can find something interesting in it."