Interview Filep Motwary
It is two weeks before Dries Van Noten announces his partnership with Puig, the third-generation family-owned fashion and fragrance business based in Barcelona. I find myself on a train to Antwerp for an interview with the Belgian designer,a member of The Antwerp Six, the group that took fashion by storm in Paris—and eventually the world—in the mid-1980s.
Everything about the DVN headquarters is serene, including the view from its windows, with Antwerp’s harbor reflecting color into every room. The 60,000-square-foot, six-storey water front former warehouse is now a place for creation. Flowers, antiques and paintings construct a working environment that I wouldn’t mind being part of. Thomas walks me up to the top floor to the showroom and tells me the story of the building that was originally used for storing wine and spirits. From the 1950s, it was used as a warehouse for old museums. While going up I see familiar faces.
We are on the top floor and Dries enters the room precisely on time, as I get nervous for not having my recorder ready. He is charming and his voice helps me relax. The conversation starts by referring to some of his earlier collections. While I am trying to set up my recording equipment I ask if he ever noticed how enthusiastic and emotional pit photographers become during his shows.
“They have the best place during a show,” he answers.
“They switched places with the top journalists as they used to be on the side of the catwalk, standing and taking pictures. It’s now all about the power of ‘image’ that has become important…”
FILEP MOTWARY: We definitely live in different times now… Recently I came across this wonderful video on Facebook, a montage that included 104 finales from your shows. I admire the fact that all these clothes are still very universal—easy to understand, very wearable,beautiful clothes—all of them, every single look, from the very beginning. Yet, what is notable is the fun in these shows that gradually vanishes. The models walk differently, they do not smile; they appear as soldiers almost.Why this change of energy?
DRIES VAN NOTEN: Well, I think it’s the general change in the world. For the moment, even when you see people on the street, they are often blank-faced. It has to do also with the designers now and how they suggest things. In the past the fashion shows were point-one of the fun effect: there was not so much stress involved,the press and the seating was also a matter to solve as they behaved as gods and they had to be treated as gods and the whole situation of who-is-sitting-next-to whom-and-where was nerve-wracking… So the front-row concept today has also changed. Nowadays, a fashion show, instead of a fun moment and a moment for expression of creativity, has become more like a huge event.
There’s another thing that has changed and I think it’s very obvious: in the past, designers liked when the model added something of herself to the outfit. So, when I would see someone like Pat Cleveland wearing a look and how she would move and swing on the catwalk, it was 50 per cent about the outfit and 50 per cent about Pat. What most designers want now is something that is completely blank, perhaps like a marionette, and the focus is solely on the clothes. It’s no longer a combination of the two. Probably the model doesn’t really add and this is why I still like to work with some of my “fetish”models, who I include in nearly every show, like Daiane Conterato or Hanne Gaby; these are girls that might not have a full expression like the models of the past did but what they do have is a great personality and strong presence. Most importantly they understand what they wear. It’s the same thing with some of the boy models.When I think of my first show, there was John Francis and others who would go on the catwalk swinging and having fun and enjoying life. Now the boys are 16 to 18years old, very young… This is a change but this is also the reality.
At DVN, there is always a choice from castings. We still do a rather individual selection and we mix here and there some street characters as well. For our hundredth show, we only used models from the past while trying to make a statement and add a more personal touch to the whole presentation. Naturally, we like also to be part of this new movement in fashion’s current reality.
DVN: Yes! I think a model always has to feel the outfit a little bit and that’s important because if it’s not the case,people won’t believe the clothes they look at. A fashion show stands as something different for each designer.Some designers do collections that are not necessarily linked with reality, while for us, every piece we show on the catwalk, we want to sell.It’s very important for me to show the realness and reality behind what I do and it’s vital that the people in the room,the guests of the fashion show or those who look at it from home on their laptop or smartphone, that they feel a connection and are able to say, “This is something that I would like to buy.” This is completely different from saying,“This is something beautiful to look at.”A lot of designers create things that are really beautiful“images” and fail to engage people that would like to reflect themselves in these clothes.
Of course, sometimes things are a bit more crazy or theoretical but still behind what we present, there is always reality. As we grow older we know more and more about ourselves and about the clothes we want to wear.
FM: What about your approach to the sexes and gender?It is very specific in your collections: you separate men from women very precisely. Yet, we live in a period where a third gender is forming in the zeitgeist while it suggests a more fluid conception of gender. How do you respond to this as a designer?
DVN: I have always used the medium of a men’s fashion show and a women’s fashion show. You have seen in the video of my shows’ finales that you mentioned earlier, that even in my first collections that were for men I always made sure to include women too. It was once I had the budget that my shows were separated into men’s and women’s but I never said that my collections were only designed solely for one or the other. For the moment, there is so much fashion in the world and so many images that I want to stick to something rather simple: a clear system so that people know what they can expect to look at or wear. Through this persistence,I can still change things around.
The strongest collections I have made in the past are those where I started to play with the perception of what is menswear and what is womenswear.
FM: Should men and women dress more like each other?
DVN: I love the fact that there is a difference! It is great when they can borrow pieces from each other’s wardrobe and it is very important to me that my customers have these possibilities. I did collections where the whole starting point was this. For example, in a show I did in Milan in 2008 for men, my focus was sportswear and I wanted to use women’s materials. The question was about how people connect certain materials with sportswear while they don’t with others. Why it was acceptable for the man to wear a transparent mesh t-shirt and why it wasn’t acceptable for him to show up in a muslin silk shirt instead.Why is a certain neon colour only acceptable when applied to running clothes and not OK when you include it in certain menswear pieces? I started to play a little bit with that game, putting the neon colour on a plasticized mac which, of course, was the most normal thing todo; and for the show, I used the same neon colour but in duchesse satin.
FM: What was the response to this collection?
DVN: I think that if it had been shown in Paris it would have been perfectly OK and accepted. I showed in Milan and the journalists were in a different mindset that was more “Milan” fashion mode and expected to see more traditional things. So I think they were a little bit confused with all these transparencies and the duchesses—all these really couture materials applied to menswear. It is a collection that I very much like to look at still; transparent nylons in neon colours… So yes, it was like all those strange things combined. Nylon is OK but muslin is not OK… Why?
For women, there was a collection we called “Fred and Ginger”—you know these images of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, where he is wearing the tuxedo and she is wearing this beautiful feather dress? They swirl and swirl and swirl and I said, “Ok, when you swirl so much, you are no longer looking at two people dancing: they become one”. What if this was my inspiration? What would a collection look like? So it was about menswear shirts with feather skirts underneath men’s coats that were entirely embroidered again with feathers and other precious things.
FM: Yes, I love it so much. One of the looks was used in my Haute-à-Porter exhibition in 2016. Speaking of which, I want to ask: where is the emotion in fashion? Is it possible that sentiment no longer engages with the current state of the fashion industry and if so, why? What has changed?
DVN: It depends from designer to designer. There are some of us that still work with emotion; others prefer a cold, really product type of environment. For me, emotion is very present in my collections and I love to infuse it. I remember the very first time I put a woman’s silhouette in my fashion show, a young girl with bright red lips. I had my guests lying down on white cushions and we played Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender, which made everybody cry—it was so emotional, truly. Or the other collection we did, with the carpet [SS15], a few years back… Emotion is present in what I do and I am not afraid of it. I am also not afraid of crying. Laughing and crying is part of human life and I want to believe that fashion is part of human life too.
FM: How connected are you to the body you design for?Or at least what is your theory for both the male and female body? What really guides you in designing?
DVN: The body gives structure and life to the clothes that I design. Of course, everybody is different and this is truly wonderful. One might say this is also the reason why I avoid designing total-look silhouettes; I design separates because everybody is different. It would make no sense to me if I said: “This is the perfect body so I make designs only for that.” The perfect body doesn’t exist! The body goes together with character, the way we move, our gestures.Movement for me is much more important than the body itself!Sometimes you have models that have a very strange body but they have a presence and certainly a very special movement, so beautiful that it erases the rest. Very often a well-dressed person is not necessarily the one that has the perfect size 36—for me they can have a very narrow part and big hips or the other way round, if we speak about women; for the men it is also more of a state of mind and expression before anything else. That’s important I think.
FM: So when does the body come in when you design a collection? Do you sketch, or work directly on the mannequin?
DVM: You can design whatever you want; every starting point, the beginning of a collection, is very theoretical.You talk about theoretical points: I would like to do this,I would like to mix this and that element, some art,different fabrics or textures, ideas, thoughts, a movie I have seen maybe, a smell, a walk in the garden… All these elements you bring together to use as inspiration.
But a designer very quickly will have to start doing fittings,to see these ideas on the body that they are to be worn on. In that way, we need to start by questioning whether our man or woman wears classic shoes, wears sneakers,or wears sports sandals. Because each of these are about three different ways of moving. With men, it is less evident than with women of course. Is she wearing heels with 11cm height, an easy flat men’s shoe or is she a flip-flop type? And it’s not only about the length, the height and presence and how they appeal, it’s also about the way she moves and I told you already how important for me this is.Either she stands up and walks with her hips or she has a more boyish walk, which gives immediately a different character.
It is quite nice that, as a designer, you can play a little bit with the perception of what people expect from somebody with flat shoes and what people expect from a woman in high heels. Maybe there we have to play a little bit with perception, as mentioned. With high heels, people expect a sexy dress and a mini skirt perhaps.
FM: Where does sex stand in your collections then, Mr Van Noten?
DVN: You don’t have to show flesh to be sexy and erotic. Hiding things or the way that fabric falls and drapes over the body, the suggestion of sex perhaps, can be more stimulating.
FM: You’re very careful about revealing too much about yourself in public but then you reveal so much about yourself through your shows. Isn’t it cruel to do something that is simultaneously so pleasurable for you and yet so painful in a way?
DVN: I don’t hide; I am not someone like Martin Margiela who does not want to be seen. The best proof is that I did a documentary. Some people don’t like it because it is not dramatic enough—there are no tears involved.
FM: How do you mean dramatic?
DVN: You know, there was no fashion drama in it. Some expect us fashion people to be throwing things and screaming at each other but, unfortunately, there was nothing like that in this film. I didn’t want to leave things out of the documentary. It was an important thing for me since after my exhibition in 2014 there were still a lot of things that I wanted to tell. When Reiner Holzemer came to me and said that he would like to do a documentary I thought that it would be a good idea because fashion has become such a kind of a “thing” that perhaps it would be a nice way to show to people what fashion for me is really about: the skill, the savoir-faire—it’s about putting fabrics together and all those things… It is not about dressing a celebrity on the red carpet, that’s not fashion for me.
It became fashion unfortunately but now DVN is more about the beauty and the craft and all those wonderful elements that we love and the brand stands for.
FM: In the documentary, you declare that you find it necessary to infuse some “bad taste” into your work. This is something that I would have never guessed as your collections are always considered to be the pinnacle of well-researched elegance. What is elegance for you?
DVN: I am not sure that I make things elegant. I can make things that maybe people will look good in when wearing them. Elegance is a combination of different things and it stands differently for every person. It is about personal taste, experiences, hobbies, one’s movement,the personality… I always try to make clothes that are just a way of expression: they will reveal things about the person who wears them. Your reflection can be in a basic navy sweater to a rich fully-embroidered jacket; it doesn’t matter in the end.
Through the clothes I’m making I want to give words to the wearer to take them and create a story by combining these words. You can tell a story with these words one year and pick up the same garment a few years later and combine it with new words to make up a new story or to continue from where you left it.It is really a pity that fashion sometimes is only about the surface: how much money somebody makes, how well informed one is in terms of what is trendy today and not tomorrow.
FM: In one of your interviews you said colour and men don’t always go very well together. Why?
DVN: I use colour and indeed for the collection that is now in stores [men ss18], I really did a complete study in colour—different nuances and things like that. Of course,with men you have to be a bit more careful, to make them believable and, in the end, I really want to make collections that also sell in the stores. It would not make any sense to make a collection that looks great on the catwalk but doesn’t sell.
FM: How would you define the Dries Van Noten man? Who is this guy, what does he do, what does he like? What drives him?
DVN: Our customer age varies from 16 to 80 and we sell to all the people there and in between. It’s more of an attitude rather than a typical age group we focus on. Most people are always in search of something creative and they use their clothes to tell something about themselves.
The strangest thing is that we are very popular sometimes with basketball players in America, who always buy all the oversized pieces, as well as pop stars and movie stars.When you see Justin Bieber to Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z and all these great people wearing DVN, what I said is already there: different age groups and personalities. And you don’t really see the DVN clothes immediately: theydon’t shout, they all wear them in a way that belongs to them, and this is something I truly find inspiring.You have also older people who wear them and others who I respect enormously like orchestra conductors in Belgium: Philippe Herreweghe who is an incredible talent in music and around 71 years old. He is a very good customer at the store and always picks clothes that are really perfect for him.
FM: Why do most of the big brands offer more and more products as seasons go by? Do we really need so much fashion? For example, you are in denial of pre-collections,cruise collections and so on while others live from it…
DVN: I think we need to balance it, almost like a dance,between reality, the demands of social media, and all these things. I don’t want to sit there in the corner like an old guy saying, “Oh, in the past things were better, so let’s do only one collection per season,” when the needs of stores, e-commerce and all those new elements are changing. I have to adapt to the evolution too, otherwise it would be fatal just to sit there in denial.
As I run a business, I have to see that my competitors don’t do things for which maybe I am not standing for but, in the end, they have more success than I do. So it’s always about trying to find the right balance by asking,“Ok, what do we have to do, can we say that we will stick to these principles and evolve at the same time?” Other times we do some small capsule collections to boost the rest of our products, especially with the rise of the pop-up concepts in the stores. In Tokyo’s Dover Street Market, for example, we do something special every two months…Why not? It keeps the energy high.
Yet, creating more than four collections a year would take me away from the possibility of digging really deep in the subjects I like to analyze each time, the development of fabrics that, for me, is something very important.Developing a collection takes time and I cannot do it four times a year because the time needed to create something—having the samples made, sending them back and forth, product testing—is already a long process and requires my full attention. Fabrics are very important tome: they are the starting point of each collection, so…
FM: How has the fashion industry changed in the past ten to 15 years? What are people expecting from it now as opposed to what they expected then?
DVN: People are expecting click, click, click, emotion, emotion,emotion. It is very clear now with social media and the way we see fashion on our smartphones. Even us, a sa company, we have to think of ways to engage them. For example, what would be the five looks we would choose to share first on our social media account? So I guess the number one rule is “don’t post anything black” because when people don’t see anything, they scroll down to the next post. People want interesting motifs, colours and shapes now. For example, you can’t do the Prince of Wales check, as it is not pleasant to look at on a screen:it gets deformed almost like a hallucination. It makes no sense to do plain little dresses or skirts or blousons for men with embroidery on the back because you can’t see details on a smartphone. These are things that we have to think about.
While putting together the fashion show, we take pictures and we reduce them to the size of a smart phone screen to test how they look like. This might sound surprising to you but this is the reality of things now. If you do embroidery, put it on the front, not the back! Unless you want to really put something on the back, put something small on the front so that people are intrigued to click on it wanting to see the side or the back too.
FM: So, does it affect the design process, this change?
DVN: Not really the design process but the ways these clothes will be presented in the fashion show. It’s not that I don’t do small, busy motifs—of course I do, but they will not be on the first outfit presented at the fashion show.Through the five first silhouettes we have to unfold a story,there has to be an evolution in everything so, in a way, they announce there is more to come. The collection should bea build up, the show as well.
FM: Over the past few years we witnessed prêt-à-porter overcoming itself, while being transformed into something even more elaborate and sometimes even competing with haute couture in terms of extravagance, volume, techniques,lace and feather work. What would be your take on this and furthermore, have you ever thought of having Dries Van Noten enter the field of haute couture?
DVN: The levels have changed because we didn’t always have “high street”. I think now things are much clearer compared to the past when you had the créateur and haute couture being two very defined elements. Then, of course, you had the whole notion of luxury, which slowly became more and more important as the years went by and therefore the role of the créateur became more and more luxurious. In the 60s, it was the haute couturiers that dictated fashion!
Then the whole rule of fashion went more to the créateur, which led to the shift of what luxury stood for. The créateurs started to also have “bis-lines”[diffusion lines] and it’s normal that after this what we got was the “high street”. It became important that prêt-à-porter also reflected some elements that until then we had only seen in couture.For me, this is a very logical evolution and naturally the creativity now really reflects notions of the past.
Haute couture remains, as a method, destined for one client, according to his or her measurements and is still an extra step in creativity, the savoir-faire, and one’s skills in making the garment along with the possibilities in adapting it. Prêt-à-porter is still in generic sizes and more than a handful of copies per design—it’s much more democratic.
FM: Do you have a direct relationship with your customers?
DVN: No, not really. I usually meet the buyers and it is,for me, very important because they are translating and explaining my vision to their clients, the final customer. It is also a comfortable situation that I am used to.
FM: Is today’s society connected to the clothes we wear? Should we seek a deeper meaning in clothing as opposed to what fast fashion is offering us? With fast fashion we can wear something new every day without necessarily being wealthy…
DVN: Sometimes I forget what clothes mean to those who wear them. Recently I experienced some truly emotional moments during my book signing [Dries Van Noten 1-100,published on the occasion of the 100th Dries Van Noten fashion show] when people would come and share their stories. A woman came to say to me, “Look here is a picture of my husband and me and our three kids in the90s, all dressed in your collection.” In the 90s I had a kids’ line for a short while. They were now standing there again for me, the husband and the three kids as adults, still dressed in Dries Van Noten. This is beyond a compliment;I am part of this family’s memories.
Other people would say, “I am wearing this coat, which I bought during that period of my life, on that special day” and so on. We forget the importance of clothes, even me as a designer. People buy clothes to live life in them! They are their identity.
FM: So, Mr Van Noten, what is fashion suffering from, if itis indeed suffering, and what would be the cure?
DVN: An overdose I think! [laughs]. Being in fashion for all these years, seeing so many shifts and changes happening, it’s always about going up and down. It will be a self-regulation in one way or another: there is a lot of fashion and there is a kind of fashion saturation I think.In the past, the moment a collection was shared online,I would be the first to go on style.com to see who was where and doing what. Now I don’t anymore—I tend to get confused about the things I am looking at and I am never sure if they are made for this season, next season or the year after.
Everything is shared simultaneously and it gets chaotic.To feel connected with certain things you still need to know something about them, make a bit of an effort. When you want to know more about fashion, a pretty image is just not enough. Everything is so instant!
FM: I was speaking to Christian Lacroix once and he told me how responsible he felt for the people that worked with him. What is your team for you? How does your responsibility translate?
DVN: My responsibility translates into everything that I do.Often I say that I am a spoiled designer because I have so many opportunities offered by the people around me.For example, I can make any fabric I am dreaming of, the same with embroideries and this is because I have all these very loyal people who work with me and have done for so many years. I have incredible suppliers who are so open to making something in so little time, all those developments and tryouts. This was something that I achieved only by my loyalty to them. I am not a whimsical designer who would say “this time I see everything plain” so all the printers who work for me will stay out of business for a season. No! Even if I do a collection that perhaps will look quite plain, we always find ways to include prints, embroideries because I want to employ my people every time again. It’s a give and take situation.Also in Antwerp with my team, they know that I am not the easiest person to work with but on the other hand, I also give a lot back.
FM: What makes you hard to work with?
DVN: I’m very demanding—a perfectionist. Also, things that on first view I say “no” to, after I sleep on it (or don’t sleep on it) in the morning I look at them in a different way.It’s like learning to eat olives. The first olive that you put in your mouth is not as tasty as the tenth. In the process,you start to appreciate the delicacy of the taste and it’s important for me. This is what I expect from my team also. I know when I go to see a movie, an exhibition, or the work of a certain artist, there are things that speak in an evident way to me. But, people around me will observe these things in a different way and I want to hear what they have to say about it.
We teach each other how to gaze at things; it’s vital for our creativity. Especially the younger members of my team, I appreciate that they keep my eyes young!
FM: Do you suffer during the process of making a collection?
DVN: I would lie if I said no. Of course there are moments during the making of a collection when you don’t know anything anymore and you want everyone out and to stay alone for a while to think, detach. It’s an emotional roller coaster. Two weeks before the collection you say,“I love it, it’s great, it’s fantastic, we did a great job all together” and one week before the show I am sometimes asking, “What did I do?The prints are horrible and it’s not right; maybe I should have done things differently,”and so on. Then the fitting comes and everything starts to make sense again. There is always this struggle with doubt until the last minute. It’s part of the creative process; it’s healthy.
FM: This question might sound a bit strange, yet we are experiencing designer tribes, a tendency towards uniformity through branding. Is this a good thing or a bad thing with regards to society? How different is a designer uniform from work or school uniforms?
DVN: Fashion for the moment is so open. In the 80s and90s, fashion was far more about one thing than it is now.It had certain rules whereas now you can be dressed in Versace and be perfectly fashionable, or be dressed in Comme Des Garçons and also be perfectly fashionable.You can wear a classic brand like Hermès, or the most pop and strange whatever thing you want. You can be fashionable in haute couture and be fashionable in Vetements.
It is all considered as fashion so it’s much more free in terms of dressing. It’s not like in the 70s and 80swhen shoulders had to look a certain way. For a designer also who worked in the 80s, he would not be considered as hype or fashionable if the clothes did not have shoulders of 30 cm height. It was the same exact shoulders for Montana, Gaultier, Mugler and all these great designers.
Today people mix high fashion with low fashion and that’s very interesting; it shows perhaps maturity too. Indeed we have people who dress in a more creative way, people who dress towards a sexy way, others who wear only black,of course. But hasn’t this always been the case?
FM: What about fashion in museums? What is so stimulating about it these days? What does fashion in museums serve in your opinion?
DVN: Fashion for me is something that sometimes gets forgotten. It was truly exciting working together with Pamela Golbin on the Inspirations exhibition in 2014. What we had there was a very interesting discussion which,at moments, would become very tough because, in the beginning, the idea was that I would confront my clothes with the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. But then I had second thoughts and I shared them with Pamela, as I didn’t want people to think that I only look at old Balmain, Chanel and Balenciaga to get inspired in order to make my collection.
For me, inspiration comes from much more than only older fashion designers or ethnic clothes. I wanted to show movies, art and all these different sources. Pamela said, “Ok, no problem,we can use reproductions of paintings as backdrops or something like that.” Of course, I said no, because for me the old Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent clothes areas much works of art as a painting is. If we really want to keep a nice level, we need to use work with the real works of real artists. We eventually had to break some academic and museum rules because the aim was really high. My absolute favourite painter is Agnolo Bronzino so I asked Pamela to help me have him in the exhibition. This was truly a mission impossible.
We contacted the Frickmuseum, which for me has the most beautiful Bronzino. Of course, the answer was that “Bronzino doesn’t travel”and that “it stays always in the museum, as it is truly fragile”. Pamela went through the Louvre, where there is also a beautiful Bronzino, and she convinced the curator thereto lend it out. It was the first time since Louis XIV [1638-1715] brought the Bronzino that it had ever left the Louvre.
Because of this happy occasion, we could also work with the Centre Pompidou where we were allowed some work from contemporary artists—the likes of Rothko, Richter,Bacon, Yves Klein and Damien Hirst. Having some of these very important art pieces of historical value included in the exhibition opened the door for us to negotiate with other galleries and museums and ask for more works. It was all about the real thing, what we showed!
FM: I wonder if you were interested in observing the people who visited your exhibition at the time? Would you be interested in examining their psycho-synthesis and perhaps questioning the reasons their interest isstimulated by your work? Would it serve you somehow?
DVN: Especially when the exhibition moved from Paris to Antwerp I had a lot of talks with people since I would often give tours in person. It was an exhibition that also required a lot of sponsorship, for all this great artwork to move around, insurance, set design etc. In Antwerp, it was even more intense financially because of additional artists that were included. Also, the people who would always accompany the pieces and were responsible for their set up, and this is another expense. In order to thank everybody who so generously supported the exhibition by sponsoring this very expensive project, I wanted to be present as much as possible.
I was really proud that we could convince the visitors of the beauty and importance of fashion throughout this exhibition process. Fashion is not only about pretty clothes to dress in, it has a much deeper meaning and I think many people changed their mind after seeing the Inspirations exhibition. They saw fashion as a way of self-expression and that fashion has a whole culture and meaning behind it that is not only about the red carpet.
FM: Why did you appreciate being part of a fashion exhibition?
DVN: To me, it was like an extension of my fashion shows,only this time it was open to more people, especially those who never attend fashion shows and dream of it. Of course, as a designer, it was also a dream for me to exhibit the body of my work while at the same time I had to face the danger of appearing pretentious. I was thinking,
“Who am I to place my creations behind glass at the Musee des Arts Décoratifs? Are my designs so special that I am allowed to do that?” And then it was, “Can I combine my clothes together with masterpieces by Cristóbal Balenciaga and Chanel?” And even more, “Can I put the most incredible Damien Hirst together with a tailleur by Dior?” Do I dare to do all that? Will people understand at the end that all I want is, in fact, to illustrate that the Tailleur Bar [Christian Dior, The New Look] and then the Yves Klein and all these great works were elements that I tried to get inspired by and infuse them in the collections that I make? Not because I’ve put them in the same glass together with my work I am saying the latter is as important.
FM: It didn’t reflect anything as such…
DVN: No, although some people were indeed shocked by it.Some curators, too. Because the exhibition was a very big success, especially in Paris and in Antwerp and through museum circles as every curator and director has seen it.It was the first time that art, historical clothes, contemporary and commercial clothes were mixed together and valued equally. In a way I wanted the audience to look at them and make up their minds about what they thought with no restrictions.
FM: Have you ever thought about giving it up? Quitting the fashion business for the sake of something else?
DVN: The most important thing for me is that people wear my clothes and to achieve that I cannot look too much at myself, I have to look at others. To me, poor selling results are worse than a bad critique for one of my fashion shows.
Of course, I thought of giving it up—plenty of times in fact!You put so much of yourself in this business; it’s not easy being independent. At the end of 1998 we were sitting here and I received a phone call that my shoe factory was sold to Armani, my new manufacturer was sold to Gucci and my last manufacturer was sold to Prada. So, I couldn’t make shoes anymore and where do I begin from now…?
It is competition, it’s a continuous battle, the groups also have great power in department stores in terms of where the products are placed, how they are presented. It becomes very demanding as time passes. OK, I have a big house,I earn very good money, but on the other hand I do suffer from the creative aspect, this continuation that every four months you have to give birth to a new baby and sell it as the most beautiful one to the world and to the press. It’s not always easy. But I love what I do; I love it more and more as time goes by.
Special thanks to Patrick Scallon, Thomas Klein and the Dries Van Noten team in Paris and Antwerp.
Portrait photograph by Filep Motwary © for Lane Crawford 2017.
Born in Antwerp in 1958, Dries Van Noten is the third generation in a family of tailors. At the age of 18, Dries entered the fashion design course of Antwerp’s Royal Academy. On graduating, he began to freelance as a consultant designer before starting his own collection of menswear in 1986. Positive reaction was almost immediate with orders placed by prestigious customers like Barneys New York, Pauw in Amsterdam and Whistles in London. In September of the same year Dries opened a tiny eponymous boutique in Antwerp’s gallery arcade only to move in 1989 to ‘Het Modepalais’ a fivestorey former department store in the Nationalestraat which remains today.
The restoration of the period building retained many of the original fixtures and fittings, including its name. Since its beginnings Dries Van Noten has presented collections for women and men for Spring/Summer andAutumn/Winter each year. He celebrated his 50th fashion show in 2004 with a dinner for 500 guests seated at a table that later became the catwalk for the women presenting the collection. 2017 brings the 100th Dries Van Noten fashion show in March.In 2007, Dries Van Noten opened his Paris boutique for women, followed in 2009 by a shop for both collections in Tokyo’ Aoyama district and in partnership with Tomorrowland.He debuted a shop for his collection for men in Paris also that year. In June 2008, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) honoured Dries Van Noten with its International Designer of the Year Award. This was followed in December 2008 by the distinction of “Royal Designer for Industry” (RDI) from the RSA Trustee Board in London. In 2009, the Flemish Chamber of Commerce (VOKA) inducted Dries into the « Galerie des Eminents »; the Flemish Royal Academy of Belgium giftedhim with the Gold Medal (“Gouden Penning”), and the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT in New-York honoured him with the “Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion”. In May 2010 Dries Van Noten was invited to preside over the 25th edition of the “Festival International de Mode et de Photographie” of Hyeres (France), and in 2014 he presided the jury of the 7th “A Shaded View on Fashion Film” Festival (ASVOFF).2014 began with the grand opening of Dries Van Noten, “Inspirations”, a first ever exhibition featuring his designs and influences at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Another configuration of the exhibit moved to Antwerp in 2015 and each welcomed record visitors. In July France decorated Dries Van Noten with the honour of ‘Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ from Jack Lang, former French Minister of Culture and current President of the Institut du Monde Arabe. In August, Dries Van Noten Osaka opened its doors again in partnership with Tomorrowland. In October 2016, Dries Van Noten wins the Culture Award from The Province of Antwerp for his contribution to Culture.