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*** Official F/W 2012/2013 Runway Thread *** - Page 54

post #796 of 903
Wasn't ecstatic about it at first but it's quickly growing on me. I really like the color combinations but red dominated stuff is a bit overwhelming and aggressive. Really not feeling black lipstick though (edit: for some reason it doesn't bother me in the closeups)

Edited by sipang - 3/2/12 at 7:53pm
post #797 of 903
I must agree that AF Vandevorst was beautiful. Dries womens was also stunning. It kind of makes you disappointed about how menswear is relegated into an inferior sphere sometimes. Still, I don't necessarily think women's fashion is 'better' - it's all subjective of course. But it's hard to deny that it seems like certain designers really save their creative energy for women and skimp on menswear. I understand why but also lament it since it creates a regrettable disparity between sexes (and also makes cool clothing less accessible for myself and others on SF). Still, it seems like more closely connected men's and women's collections could remedy this. This is part of the reason I like Rad's unisex collection. It's made for all of us. At times I have (and still do sometimes) thought it was the future of fashion.
post #798 of 903
JW was interesting although some silhouettes were a bit akward. Coats and shoes were on top though... also I liked some of the dresses that added some funkyness to the show.

Wow, Ackermann was great. Fabrics look very very nice. Didn't know well this designer but I'm sold now!
post #799 of 903
Originally Posted by wurm View Post

I must agree that AF Vandevorst was beautiful. Dries womens was also stunning. It kind of makes you disappointed about how menswear is relegated into an inferior sphere sometimes. Still, I don't necessarily think women's fashion is 'better' - it's all subjective of course. But it's hard to deny that it seems like certain designers really save their creative energy for women and skimp on menswear. I understand why but also lament it since it creates a regrettable disparity between sexes (and also makes cool clothing less accessible for myself and others on SF). Still, it seems like more closely connected men's and women's collections could remedy this. This is part of the reason I like Rad's unisex collection. It's made for all of us. At times I have (and still do sometimes) thought it was the future of fashion.

Designers like mcqueen and ervell have a belief that menswear shouldnt change from season to season. this is what i get from their interviews...too early for the snowman to expand on this, maybe someone can chime in smile.gif
post #800 of 903
thanks for keeping the thread up to date and posting all these collections sipang, and thank for posting those gorgeous close-ups of the YY show inlove.gif

AF Vandevorst was indeed beautiful, that one and Yohji are probably my two favorites so far. Also really liked Dries. YY, DvN and Chalayan are possibly my favorites for womenswear, and while I do like this Chalayan it hasn't really moved me so far. Maybe it will grow on me, we'll see. Isn't this fashion week many times better than any other in recent memory? Can't even recall much of the last few years'. Either way, this seem to have been a good week across the board so far, from what I've seen.
post #801 of 903
Indeed, thanks for all the work sipang.

I really liked the Yohji collection and it makes me think he is trying something of a new approach in a way with this collection. More overtly sexy and aggressive like you pointed out earlier.

The DvN and the AF Vandervorst were really nice too, especially the latter who I never knew about before shog[1].gif.
Originally Posted by snowmanxl View Post

Designers like mcqueen and ervell have a belief that menswear shouldnt change from season to season. this is what i get from their interviews...too early for the snowman to expand on this, maybe someone can chime in smile.gif

I get the same vibe from them as well. I think part of it must come from how they view themselves as men (or how they would like to) - strong, stoic and not interested in standing out or looking flamboyant. I guess it's a fair point of view to have based on what kind of society you're raised in and image you want to project, but damn is it boring.

Wish there were more designers that approached menswear with the same creative spirit that womenswear is generally approached. They will probably not sell that much of it as the majority of men share the views aired by McQueen and Ervell. Like McQueen said "...what would be the point?" when almost no one would buy it or even give you critical coverage and accolades for it.
post #802 of 903
You're all very welcome


* * *

Had a look at the YY show with fresh eyes this morning and I like it better than yesterday night (when I liked it better than yesterday evening...), seems like I'm coming around on the more aggressive feel. I'm still not really on board with the last couple of looks and the lacing details etc but looking past all of that the change of gear is promising indeed.

* * *

One difference (besides everything else) between McQueen and Ervell is that McQueen was a womenswear designer first while Ervell was until recently exclusively menswear and that logically informed the way they went about approaching their men's collection. I think Ervell is, or was for a time, very intent on developing a coherent vision/aesthetic/whatever... seasons after seasons albeit in a subtle way and within or at the margins of a pretty strict menswear framewrok. It's pretty much the opposite of Savile Row-trained McQueen who was all about spectacle, grandiose and shock and who simply didn't seem to care about menswear that he saw as an inadequate outlet for creativity.

(I am mostly talking out of my ass.)

* * *

The Chalayan collection wasn't my favorite, I like his more inventive stuff, but it's still nice to look at amirite. Especially the details shots.
post #803 of 903
Originally Posted by asobu View Post

Isn't this fashion week many times better than any other in recent memory? Can't even recall much of the last few years'. Either way, this seem to have been a good week across the board so far, from what I've seen.

Same here, I don't think I paid that much attention last year though...

Originally Posted by Mesta View Post

Wow, Ackermann was great. Fabrics look very very nice. Didn't know well this designer but I'm sold now!


post #804 of 903
Rei, we love you :P

Yea Sipang, details shots are even better.
post #805 of 903
welp, time to become a woman
post #806 of 903
Originally Posted by snowmanxl View Post

welp, time to become a woman

I know a good doctor.
post #807 of 903
Ok so I want these shoes? You think it's going to be in size 42?... damn :P
Edited by Mesta - 3/3/12 at 7:14pm
post #808 of 903
sipang, do you have that dries interview in which he's talking about how much he enjoys the limitations of menswear? Where was that from?
post #809 of 903

^ yes. I would like that as well

post #810 of 903
Mmmmh, maybe the Interview magazine one, he touches briefly on that.

Originally Posted by the shah View Post

Dries Van Noten is a member of the fabled Antwerp Six, quietly bucks industry convention by not advertising, and has received massive recognition for his unprecedented use of pattern and color since founding his independent label in 1986. Despite this legacy of rule breaking, the 57-year-old Belgian designer likes to keep within limits. “For me, restrictions are not always negative,” he says. “Restrictions can push creativity. I like restrictions.”

For Van Noten’s Spring 2012 menswear collection, the juxtapositions between imagination and practicality abound: technical sportswear fabrics like paper-thin nylon are paired with elegant, slender leather belts or a silk jumpsuit; shorts are placed over pants in a subtle reference to the functionality of a fly-fisherman’s uniform; and a bright yellow raincoat is decorated with black adhesive bonding on the outside instead of its interior. “Of course, here and there, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable is also what I find very interesting,” explains Van Noten, who maintains his studio in Antwerp. Although he ventured into new territories with fabric technologies for spring, he kept his color palette to more minimal shades, including navy and burgundy, save for occasional explosions of pop color and geometric patterns. “For me, it’s really like, okay, if you go far with the unexpected materials and unexpected proportions or volumes, then keep the colors quite simple and straightforward for men,” he says.

While the clothes are highly functional, Van Noten is still, at least by Belgian standards, a romantic. After all, it’s David Bowie, the patron saint of fashion contradictions, who routinely casts an influential shadow on his design process. Bowie, he says, embodies a time when “elegance and cool were accepted in the same idea,” an era where “you could wear silk shirts and you could wear floppy material and all these things without people saying, ‘No, in fact, it’s too feminine’ or ‘it’s wrong’ or ‘it’s unbelievable.’ ”

In addition to designing clothes, Van Noten’s other seasonal calling is gardening, even in the chillier months. “I’m a very big fan of winter-flowering shrubs and bulbs.” One of his favorites is witch hazel, a plant he says is a transfixing respite from the bitter cold. “You have the smell, you have the color—it’s really like a present from God when something like that is in flower in the middle of the snow.” And just like the utilitarian garments he presented for spring, he upholds a pragmatic dress code when it comes to digging in the dirt. “When I have to do something fast, I wear the most unflattering rubber pants over my pants and a big easy sweater. I can get on my knees in the garden in whatever condition and when I’m done I can take it off, get in the car, and drive to the office. It’s the most practical thing.”

* * *


By Susannah Frankel, The Independent, February 25 2012

Dries Van Noten's company is located in a five-storey former warehouse in the old port of the city of Antwerp. It is here that precious works of art were stored and protected during the Second World War. Once a down-at-heel wilderness, "full of crumbling buildings, this place was old and neglected", as the designer puts it, since Van Noten's arrival at the turn of the millennium, the district has become a fashionable marina complete with quayside museum, bustling cafés and more. To be honest, he adds, he doesn't actually like it as much as he once did. "Now it's a bit too clean for me. I prefer a scruffy atmosphere," he says. Authenticity is a very important word in Van Noten's world.

From the top floor of the by now lovingly restored and quietly impressive place the views over the city, including the famous cathedral with the Rubens' altarpiece, are spectacular. This particular area is reserved for buying appointments and all of that profession who attend can expect to be served with traditional Flemish fare – meatloaf with cherries and roast potatoes, to be precise. Much of the raw structure of the building has been preserved and it is furnished by an eclectic mix of antiques. Van Noten is an avid collector and so, when the Antwerp courts of justice chose to rid themselves of any original 1930s fixtures and fittings, for example, he was only too happy to take these items off their hands. There's a black, high-shine 1960s sofa here, oil-painted portraits of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium in gilded frames there, all of which form a perfectly harmonious and relatively domestic counterpoint to a sense of industry and modernity that is also very much in evidence throughout.

On the third floor, bolts of fabric from past seasons are piled up on shelves alongside zips, buttons and labels. Van Noten's labels are distinctive, as the size of the garment is printed beneath his name. Although the complex nature of his design process renders his twice-yearly collections more difficult than most to copy, the archive is a precious commodity and is closely guarded for that. It is testimony to the fact that Van Noten's rise to success was a gradual one that it dates back no further than the mid-Nineties. Until that point, and still struggling to make ends meet, he paid his models in clothes, as was the custom with any up-and-coming name worth his or her credentials at the time. On the second floor, the newly arrived (and vast) spring/summer collection hangs in polythene wraps and is subjected to rigorous quality control before being shipped around the world to upwards of 500 points of sale.

Van Noten's office and studio is on the fourth floor. He's dressed today in smart blue chinos and sweater (I am reliably informed that he doesn't wear jeans) and is kept company by his dog, Harry, a magnificent Airedale terrier with a butch bark and a gait like a prima ballerina, all out-turned toes. "Harry is a lot of work," Van Noten says. On weekdays and when he doesn't have the run of the designer's famously lovely garden at his 19th-century home on the outskirts of the city, Harry has his own unusually glamorous dog walker.

It's more than 30 years since Van Noten founded his business. With a turnover estimated at around 50 million euros a year, it is a minor miracle that the label remains entirely independent and ultimately under the control of this unassuming and highly civilised man. In the last decade of the 20th century, when corporate superpowers were snapping up each and every designer name they could get their hands on, Van Noten resisted the temptation to play along, although "I thought at certain points that was maybe the way to go, that that was the future. The big groups weren't only buying labels but also all the factories. Our shoes were made in Italy. The heel manufacturer was sold to Gucci, I think, the last manufacturer to the Prada Group and the producer itself was bought by Armani. My most important yarn suppliers were also bought by Prada. And it's still like that at least some of the time." In the end, though, "that's not my way of doing things. I like to choose my own way forward. I really do want to create something that I personally like a lot."

For similar reasons, Van Noten doesn't design a pre-collection or any subsidiary lines, preferring instead to concentrate on two ready-to-wear collections for both men and women a year, all four of which he shows in Paris. "For me, the show is the only moment when I can tell my story," he says. "It's the way I communicate my ideas to the world." The collections are expansive in that they include both high-end and entry-point pieces.

"For me personally, there's too much fashion around in this world," Van Noten says – not something one might expect to hear from the mouth of a fashion designer. "There are too many images, too many impressions and the danger is that the whole thing is lost in one big blur. That's a pity. Before you had only images from ready-to-wear designers, now there's Topshop, Diesel... Everyone does fashion shows and produces imagery that is as strong as possible, just to attract attention. In the past, it was twice a year for men and twice a year for women and then there was couture. It was far more definite and there was breathing space in between."

Given that today's industry is notoriously driven by money-spinning accessories, it is equally remarkable that less than 10 per cent of this designer's business is based on those. "I'm a fashion designer, not a shoe designer," he says by way of explanation. "I like to design clothes. It seems strange to me that people buy a whole outfit in a high-street store, but they still have very expensive shoes. OK, shoes and bags are important but not so important. The whole thing, the combination of all the elements, is important." Van Noten chooses not to advertise or bombard celebrities with his designs, although he has dressed Cate Blanchett and Maggie Gyllenhaal for the red carpet. "Who are the clothes for?" he wonders. "It is challenging to create clothes for people who perhaps don't have the perfect body, who aren't a size 38, and to put those into the collection too. Why not? It's a real world out there."

We are talking today about his offering for his spring/summer collection, currently flying out of stores, and something of a departure from Van Noten's signature, more ethnically-informed work. Now, as always, however, the fabrics take precedence, providing the starting point for the collection – although never at the expense of the silhouette, which is just as considerate of its wearer's needs as it always has been.

"The idea was to find things that were aesthetically interesting but which have no connection with fashion at all," the designer says. "I thought: 'What would happen if we use elements on garments that were not created to be printed on garments?'." Van Noten looked at technical drawings of butterfly wings from the 17th century and at 18th-century black-and-white etchings of landscapes. "What's on the etchings? A lake and some houses. So, OK, that's the way they used to do it, now let's look at the modern way of doing it. So we have water from the 18th century and we have 21st-century water, too."

Then there's his collaboration with the photographer James Reeve to consider – Van Noten first came across his work at the Hyères International Fashion and Photography Festival in 2010 when he was president of the fashion side of the event, which is aimed at nurturing young talent. "He obviously has a completely different way of looking at cities," Van Noten says. Reeve's night-time images of everything from London's Albert Bridge to the casinos of Las Vegas have a similar quality to that seen when flying over urban spaces at night. Applied to clothing, at first sighting each piece appears to be scattered with tiny jewels. It is only when looked at more carefully that these patterns reveal themselves to be figurative. "We had to find a balance between the prints and achieving a garment that is nice to look at and, especially, nice to wear."

You do indeed, but there is something uplifting about wearing an oversized cotton dress or vest that turns out to be printed with blue sea, green palm fronds or ancient black-and-white sycamore trees – or indeed all of these things at the same time. "The danger with prints like these is that we would end up with very simple sack shapes – you can't use too many seams," Van Noten says. The solution? The cut of the garment looks to mid-20th-century Spanish and Italian haute couture – and to Balenciaga especially – for inspiration. "French couture at that period was very Cardin and Courrèges," Van Noten explains. "Whereas in Spanish and Italian couture it was more about lace and about ruffles – olé, olé! – and I like that much better."

Dries Van Noten was born in Antwerp in 1958. His grandfather was proprietor of a men's ready-to-wear clothing store in the city. His father was responsible for a larger designer clothing boutique in its suburbs. "It was a completely new concept," Van Noten remembers. "Until that point, all the stores were in the city centre. This was destination shopping ... on a Saturday people would drive to the store. It was menswear, womenswear, childrenswear, there were small fashion shows every weekend." Van Noten's elder brother and two sisters were at university studying by this point, so he used to join his father after school and do his homework there. His mother also owned a clothing store and collected antique linen and lace. "During the school holidays, I accompanied my parents on buying trips to Milan, Florence and Paris," Van Noten says. It is fair to say, then, that fashion is in his blood.

By the time he was 18, in 1976, Van Noten was ready to enter the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts in his home town and to undertake the rigorous fashion course there presided over by the infamous Mme Prigot. "She thought that long hair for girls was untidy, that they had to have a chignon, or she just took them to the hairdresser's herself and paid for them to have it cut off. Oh, and she didn't like knees," says Van Noten now. "She thought the only good fashion designer in the world was Coco Chanel. It was the end of the 1970s. It was punk. Of course, when you have that many restrictions you rebel against them and that makes things quite interesting.

It is the stuff of legend that, with Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee and Walter Van Beirendonck, Van Noten formed the Antwerp Six, perhaps safe in the knowledge that few outside their native country would remember, or even be able to pronounce, their individual names. In 1986, and with Van Noten having worked as a freelance designer since graduating in 1980, they drove their collections to London in a van and took the biannual collections in the British capital by storm. They were all completely different, both personally and professionally, of course, but they shared a belief that it was possible to break from tradition and to create innovative fashion without outside financial support. It says something of those involved that, to varying degrees, they went on to do just that. Although Van Noten remains friends with most of his contemporaries, he brushes off any suggestion that there is a shared Belgian aesthetic. "But we maybe do look more at clothes piece by piece. That's why shops can easily sell Belgian designers, because they can mix their clothes with other things."

Van Noten's own pragmatic approach is certainly refreshing. "Doing only the creative part of the job would be boring," he says. "In the end, it's all part of the same thing. What's the point of designing something if afterwards you don't know whether it sold? It's not that if something sells really well we're going to repeat it, because everyone who wanted to buy it has done so already and will want to move on to something else. But it keeps me in touch. I keep in mind what people want and maybe also why they want it. Did other countries buy it? Yes, no. Why did a collection not sell very well in one country when it sold fairly well in another? Maybe the balance of certain shapes wasn't right, the volumes were too oversized or not oversized enough. It's interesting. I like to look at that."

Van Noten says that he is, for the most part, left alone when out and about in his home town. "People recognise me but not too much. I'm more recognised when I walk around in Tokyo or Hong Kong than I am here. And that's good because I'm not really a big fan of that. I like to have my own life. I have my house. I am able to do things I like to do which are not always the most fashionable..." He lives with his long-time partner, Patrick Vangheluwe, and they work together, too. Cooking and gardening are both high on their list of favourite pastimes.

"I think it's the dream of every fashion designer to have six months off," Van Noten says. "To have a sabbatical just once because it all goes so fast. But that's impossible. I'm forced to think about the future because I have a responsibility to the people who work for me and who have been working here for 10 years, as well as to the people who open stores and to suppliers. We have a few thousand people working for us in India who do the embroideries, for example, so I have to make sure that every season I sell so many pieces of embroidery that represent so many hours of work..."

Although Van Noten travels frequently, he's as likely to spend the summer driving around the northern English countryside as fly off to anywhere more obviously exotic. He has spoken in the past of his clothes being inspired "by travel of the mind". Of Paris, where he has a second office and showroom, he says: "I'm always very happy to go to Paris but I'm always, also, very happy to leave. Paris is a city where you need a lot of energy to survive."

Dries Van Noten is Antwerp's most successful designer. His stand-alone store on a corner at the city's centre, around a 15-minute walk from his office headquarters, is a destination for local residents – who queue round the block each time a new collection arrives – and tourists alike. It's an elegant space where staff are attentive and well-informed but never intrusive.

"Antwerp is a very easy city to live in, I think," the designer says. It helps that it is lovely to look at, too. As so too are Dries Van Noten's clothes. They are a multi-faceted, cultural and philosophical reflection of one another in more ways than one. Above all, though, both are somehow modest – this is neither a city nor a fashion designer that likes things loud.

"I don't really want to make clothes that shout," Van Noten says. "I think the people who buy our clothes are quite individual. They're not buying them because they want the label or because they want people to admire that label. They're buying them because they like them."


By Dana Thomas, WSJ December 1 2011

In today's fashion world of corporate ownership, design by committee and mass production and sales, Belgian designer Dries Van Noten is an anomaly. Since he launched his brand in 1985, the 53-year-old Van Noten has lived and worked in Antwerp, avoiding the fashion capitals circuit except for his shows in Paris.

He produces womenswear and menswear, and only twice a year—no pre-collections, no resort wear, no home wares, no jeans or perfumes or hotel decors. "Personally, I think there is too much fashion in the world," he says, sitting in his sparsely decorated office overlooking the city harbor on a cold autumn afternoon. "Now you can go on or blogs and there is always another collection launch, cruise, resort, accessories, and on and on and that's a pity. For me it's an overdose."

Unlike a good many of his fellow designers, he is modest, soft-spoken and rather uncomfortable in the spotlight. He is not the sort to host trunk shows in big department stores, walk the red carpet or pal around with celebrities. He rises at 5 a.m. and works quietly and diligently, overseeing everything from design to the tissue paper that his clothing will be sold in. Van Noten spends his evenings dining at stylish local restaurants, such as Hofstraat 24—run by his friends, chef Roman Drowart and Laurence Van Bree—or at home. He shares a 19th-century manor with beautiful grounds outside of Antwerp with his business and life partner of 25 years, Patrick Vangheluwe, and their two-year-old Airedale, Harry. "It's a busy job, what we have here," Van Noten admits. "But we try to enjoy all three—fashion, house and garden—every day."

Van Noten is known simply for his clothes, and is loved for his clothes—a style that looks complicated and studied on the hanger but is, in fact, quite modern and easy to wear. Because of this, he has engendered a cultlike following: women who wear "Dries" (pronounced "drease," like please) are uniquely loyal to the brand. When you say you're wearing Dries to a fellow follower, it's almost like you are speaking in code about intelligent, artistic design.

Unlike most major luxury brands, which often sell as much in accessories as they do in clothes, Van Noten's ready-to-wear accounts for more than 90 percent of his sales. He doesn't advertise, and he doesn't publish or reveal sales figures, but reportedly does an estimated $70 million in sales a year—a small amount compared to megacorporate brands such as Gucci, Prada and Hermès that rack up several billion dollars a year in sales. "I'm very happy with the size of the company as it is right now," he insists—blasphemy in today's $200 billion–a-year luxury fashion industry—adding boldly, "I don't have to grow."

Then again, and most importantly, Van Noten owns his company, an increasing rarity in luxury fashion today. In the last 20 years, most designer-run luxury brands have either listed on the stock market (like Ralph Lauren) or sold to corporate groups such as LVMH or Gucci Group or to private equity firms. Among the handful that remain independent are Giorgio Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Oscar de la Renta and Sonia Rykiel.

The surge in growth in the last decade in luxury fashion has made it financially difficult for a young designer to launch a brand and for long-time independents to remain that way. "I've always worried that if I sold the company I'd lose my liberty, my freedom," says Van Noten in proper English punctuated with fluttering Flemish R's. "When you see what has happened to others who sold to groups, not everyone was very happy afterward."

It's a way of running a business that luxury executives and MBAs consider downright old-fashioned. But remaining independent suits Van Noten and his lifestyle just fine. It allows him to keep an eye on just about everything that bears his name. He meets with many of his retailers personally in the showroom and explains the collection, which Marilyn Blaszka, co-owner of Blake in Chicago, notes, "is unusual." What's more, he listens to their opinions and takes them into account when designing the next collection. "I think he wants to know and is pleased to know how people wear the clothes," Blaszka says.

Though Van Noten does only four collections a year, he works incessantly, taking only four or five days of vacation a year. He adores Antwerp and is proud of the city. Anyone who comes for a visit receives a guide to the city that he put together of his favorite addresses. He often visits the Plantin-Moretus Museum in the old city center, with its burnished leather paneled rooms, romantic walled rose garden and collection of pre-1800 printing presses and books; he stops by Goossens, the tiny artisanal bakery on Korte Gasthuisstraat, for sugar bread, which he brings to the office; he trolls flea markets and antique shops to collect tin objects; he takes in art exhibits and particularly loves Francis Bacon, Russian Constructivists and the Flemish masters.

"To go to exhibitions, to talk with people, to think, to research. That is the fantastic part of our job," he says. "For me, the most fun is the trip to create something that I really love. To do four women's collections a year? Forget it. You have two months, three months, click, click, click"—he snaps his fingers—"it has to be done, finished, next. Some designers make their show collection in two weeks. This, I don't like."

Instead, Van Noten focuses solely on spring/summer and fall/winter for men and for women and produces an astounding 1,200 designs for women and 800 for men—double the majority of his competitors. "I like to make a lot of clothes!" he says with a laugh. And, Blaszka reports, they sell "very, very well."

You can't have a business that loses money and money and money," Van Noten says. "When you have an investor, you can do that. But when it's your own money, you can't. I tried always to be very careful financially." He attributes this habit for fiscal responsibility to his upbringing.

Van Noten grew up in Antwerp, the youngest of four children of a clothing merchant and a stay-at-home mother. Van Noten's father had a fashion emporium 20 miles outside of town, "a destination store, which was a new concept back in the early 1970s," he explains. Throughout his teens, he spent weekends working in the store and during breaks from his Jesuit school he accompanied his parents on buying trips to Milan and Paris. It was understood that Van Noten would eventually run the store.

When it came time for college, his parents gave him the choice: business school or fashion school. He found business "boring," and chose fashion, enrolling at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. A month into his studies, he recalls, "I told my father, 'I love designing so much I don't think I'm going to take over the company. I want to be a fashion designer.' And he became so angry. He said, 'If that is the case, you can study what you want, but I won't pay for it.' " Van Noten picked up freelance design gigs for an assortment of companies, including a children's wear brand and Donnay tennis, to pay his way through school.

At the Royal Academy, he met classmates Ann Demeulemeester and Dirk Bikkembergs. The students had ambition and used their connections to launch their careers. Van Noten had a men's jacket manufacturer and shirt manufacturer who were willing to produce clothes for him, so he designed a small menswear collection. "Dirk Bikkembergs had a contact of someone who made shoes, so he made men's shoes," Van Noten says. "And Ann Demeulemeester knew someone who made sunglasses, so the first thing she made was sunglasses." In 1986, together, along with Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van Saene and Marina Yee, they pooled their money, put everything in a van, drove to London, rented a showroom space (which they divided into six) and presented their collections to retailers during fashion week. They were a hit and became known as the Antwerp Six.

Van Noten's first client was the famed retailer Barneys New York, his favorite store at the time. Van Noten was so nervous about the meeting, he says, "I ran away!" Christine Mathys, Van Noten's former boss at Donnay and his new business partner of sorts—no one really has a title at the company, he says—stepped in and handled the sale. Barneys bought Van Noten's menswear but sold it as womenswear.

In the early years of his business, "everything was hard, of course," he says. "But the hardest was the commercial and distribution side, to pick the right clients and to get your money. In the 1980s, you had a lot of stores you had to be in to be seen but didn't always pay. Susanne Bartsch, who had a store downtown, bought an enormous quantity of our second collection, of Harris tweeds in pinky pink. She accepted the first part and didn't pay, so we didn't deliver the second part. I can still see the racks of pink Harris tweeds hanging there." (When reached for comment, Bartsch said she couldn't recall.)

In 1989, a prime retail property came up for sale in Antwerp: the Het Modepaleis, a five-story fashion emporium built in 1881 that sits on an acute corner, like the Flatiron building in New York. Van Noten renovated the place, overseeing every detail, from buffing the original bronze and mahogany fittings to the choice of curtain fabric. It's a habit he continues today: He decorates his stores himself, furnishing them with antiques and artwork that he and Vangheluwe find on eBay and at auctions. Looking back, he says, buying the Modepaleis "was one of the best things and the most stupid things I've ever done." Best because the space is a gem and solidified Van Noten as a serious fashion brand. Stupid, he says, because "it nearly killed the company [financially]. But we survived."

Two years later, close call No. 2 came: the Persian Gulf War. Most fashion companies lost a great deal sales-wise because American retailers slashed their spring/summer 1991 orders as the country went to war in January. Van Noten experienced that and more: "That season," he says, "I made the collection inspired by Iraq and Iran"—having conceived and designed it before Iraq invaded Kuwait. As it happens, he says, "we have a system where jacket names begin with a B for blazer, and skirts are with an S for skirt, so that season the blazers were called Baghdad, the skirts were called Saddam, and so on. All the shipments to New York were blocked in customs because the papers were filled with names of cities of Iraq and Saddam."

"That," he says quietly, "nearly caused us bankruptcy."

He recovered well enough that two years later he staged his first womenswear show in Paris, in the Hôtel George V's ballroom. He imported white mattresses and pillows from India and set them on the floor for editors and retailers to sit on. The models, wearing big flowery prints, walked the all-white room to Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender." The reaction was so enthusiastic, Van Noten remembers, "it was scary." The result: "More clients."

That bubble lasted only so long. When the minimalism movement of Jil Sander, Helmut Lang and Miuccia Prada seized fashion in the late 1990s, Van Noten found himself struggling again. "We were doing a lot of rich prints, fancy things, as everything became more minimal and conceptual," he says. At the same time, corporate groups such as LVMH, Prada and the newly formed Gucci Group began buying up small, independent fashion companies like Van Noten's as well as major fashion suppliers. "Our shoe manufacturer group was bought by Armani, our heel manufacturer group was taken over by the Gucci Group and our last manufacturer was taken over by the Prada group," he explains. "Of course, when those people buy those companies, you are not the first served. We thought: Do we still have a future if we don't join a group?"

Eventually, he decided to talk to the big fashion groups, to listen to their pitch. He didn't like what he heard. "I made it quite clear that it was not so much my thing," he says. And that was that.

He felt the impact of his decision immediately. "We lost all our German clients in one season," he says. "They were told by the big groups, 'If you buy this line you must buy this other line—it's the whole package or nothing.' And our customers told us, 'Sorry, we don't have the budget for all of it,' and kicked us out."

He soldiered onward, doing the clothes he wanted to do, selling them to the retailers he had long-standing relationships with, such as Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Blake, working with people he likes in a place he loves. A decade on, it has paid off. Today he has nine free-standing stores around the world, three of which, in Antwerp and Paris, he owns, 450 other points of sale and about 110 employees.

Remaining independent has allowed Van Noten to evolve at his own pace. Take, for instance, the fabrics he chooses for his collections, most of which are made exclusively for him up to a year in advance. This fall, he used a high-tech fabric from Japan that looks like tapestry. Two years ago, he had village women in remote Uzbekistan weave fabric that was carried by mule for a day and a half to the local DHL office to be shipped to his studio in Antwerp.

For his spring collection, Van Noten collaborated with a young British photographer, James Reeve, on a digital print of city skylines. Van Noten sliced up the printed cottons and silks and combined them with pieces of other printed fabrics he had made, of the jungle, the sea, 18th-century Italian landscape etchings and botanical drawings of roses, to create a sort of fabric collage in 1960s Balenciaga–like silhouettes. When he presented the collection during Paris Fashion Week in October, it was, as always, resolutely modern and feminine. Women's Wear Daily called it "mercifully calm."

They might as well have been describing Van Noten and his company. For 25 years, he's done exactly as he pleases, with all its ups and downs, and as he reflects on it, he remains as serene as his surroundings. "We all have our ideas and our dreams," he says as he gazes out his bay window at the pleasure yachts in the still port below. "It's important to have your dreams. But," he adds quietly, "I'm very realistic."


By Angelo Flaccavento, Dapper Dan September 2010

“Gentle” may not be the most fashionable adjective in the intense, often harsh fashion world. Dries Van Noten, though is an exception: he, and his clothes, are most definitely gentle. Cacophony is not his thing. The subtle blend of romanticism, exoticism and eccentricity that exudes from any piece of clothing with his label on it; the cozy atmosphere of his eclectic shops, conceived not as temples but as houses or bazaars; the dreamy air of his shows, which are forays into a parallel dimension of pure, multi sensory joy: all of this comes from someone who expresses himself in whispers rather than shouts. “There is so much of myself as a person in the things I create, it’s almost scary,” he says with a laugh. “Sometimes I feel like I am baring it all in front of the audience.” The serene flow of his speech is accented by a piercing Belgian “r”. When he talks, he looks straight into my eyes. This is the first time I have met the famously reserved Van Noten in person, and it is the man, not the designer, who I hope to get to know.

On my way to the early-morning interview, in Paris’ fourth arrondissement, the sun is shining brightly. I am assembling a mental picture of the Dries universe. I think of it as a place where every tiny detail is at once meticulously calculated and utterly effortless. Once, I did a telephone interview with Van Noten: while on hold, I was graced with not another hysterical jingle but a soothing audio collage of dialogues and vignettes from 1950s French films. Delightful! For Christmas, I was given – as was all the press – a 491-gramme bar of Belgian chocolate, wrapped in red paper, with slogans printed in silver across it. And the correspondence? Hand-written thank-you notes are sent whenever an article is published, and the same elegant font appears on all cards, show invitations and even emails. It indicates not just taste but attention – and attention, after all, is the essence of kindness.

Back to the meeting. Van Noten is dressed in a dark field jacket, blue jumper, white shirt and chinos, his salt-and-pepper hair side-parted to recall the good schoolboy he no doubt was. He looks like a cultured antiquarian, a polite art historian or a particularly elegant gardener, but not a fashionista. He also looks far younger than his 52 years. We are in the industrious, arty lower Marais: 4 rue du Plâtre, a converted gallery space acquired by the company in the mid-1990s that functions as Van Noten’s Parisian base. (The firm’s headquarters are still in Antwerp, where the designer was born and still lives and works.)

“I love living in Antwerp,” Van Noten says. “I make no political statement of my dislike for media exposure, I just don’t like to be public. In this sense, being based in Belgium is an enormous advantage, because I can easily travel everywhere while living in a relatively small city. I like the idea of looking at things from the outside. Taking a step back, especially in fashion, is quite healthy.” Seated on a pea-green sofa, he is incredibly serene, almost detached. “I am not afraid to admit that I am romantic,” he continues. “Very romantic. I like to dream; I like to find beauty and soft things in all that goes on around me.”

Yet there is a core of quiet intensity to his designs that suggests a life lived with passion. “I’m often labelled as a designer who uses exotic references, and travel is certainly a big part of my aesthetic,” he says. “Yet I think that traveling happens truly in your mind: it is a way of thinking, of looking at things. People think that traveling is taking an eight-hour flight to some far-flung destination. For me, it’s taking a car and turning off where you have never gone before, or maybe looking at something you like in a new way. Traveling means opening your eyes.”

One way or another, Van Noten has been involved in the clothing industry all his life. Born in Antwerp in 1958 into the third generation of a family of tailors, he watched his grandfather rework second-hand clothes by turning them inside out, while his father opened a large fashion boutique in the outskirts of Antwerp, and then a second in the city centre, in the 1970s. Dries was educated in a Jesuit school before enrolling on the fashion course at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which was then just another small arts college. He graduated in the early 1980s alongside a class of visionaries that included Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela, who changed the course of modern fashion when they came to London in 1986 and, seemingly overnight, sparked a Belgian fashion phenomenon. Van Noten founded his company the same year, and now, 24 years later, he is still the sole owner of what has grown into a small empire.

“We are completely independent,” he says proudly, with a stress on the “we” that suggests a profound appreciation for teamwork and an utter lack of the fashion world’s trademark egomania. “Of course it has its pluses and minuses,” he continues, “but I have the immense pleasure of being my own boss and that is unbeatable. I don’t have a marketing team telling me to do flowers, for instance, because they sell, which is great. At the same time, I must be sure to pay all the salaries to my employees, which means I have to balance creativity with commerce.” Is that hard? “It depends. I am both a creator and an entrepreneur, and I’m fine with it. I like the combination and would never choose to be one or the other.”

Van Noten may be calm and unassuming, but his intense focus and determination make him that rare thing, both dreamer and businessman. “Fashion today is all about the product,” he sighs. “With all the pre-collections and the shows that are just marketing exercises, it has turned into a system. For an old romantic like me, this is hurting a little bit. That’s why I try to do things my way.

“I like to have happy people around me, and it’s for these people that I create my collections. Fashion should never be too dark or too gloomy: it should evoke feelings of joy. I believe in clothes as tools for self-expression. The biggest compliment is if I see someone on the street wearing something I have created in a way I would never have imagined. Clothes should always tell something of the person that wears them – and very little of the designer who made them.”

Van Noten spends an all-consuming amount of time in his studio and works enormously hard on every aspect of his business. But he is not a fashion person: he makes no pompous style declarations, he has no famous friends and he doesn’t even advertise in magazines, for fear of reducing his vision to a formula. “In fashion, it is very easy to see yourself as the god of your own little world, but it’s a far cry from the truth,” he says. “Which is why I have a passion for gardening, and try to spend some time around plants and flowers every day. The garden forces you to be very humble: you’re there with your feet on the ground and your hands in the soil, but flowers will only bloom if they want to, not because you force them to. I might think of myself as an artist, but I don’t. A wonderful chef who makes a wonderful cake deserves the title just as well,” he smiles, finishing the interview as politely as ever.

Although we have talked extensively about Van Noten’s work, we hardly touched on his personal life, yet it was an oddly, deeply intimate exchange. Shy people often have an elegant way of talking about themselves while appearing to talk about anything but themselves. It is between the lines that we dream, and Dries Van Noten knows a thing or two about dreams.

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