notes on dries (83)
Notes On Dries from Issue 83: Outsiders
How do you achieve insider status while remaining an outsider? It seems Dries Van Noten already has the answer. The 50-something, humble Belgian is revered for his trademark elegance, which can be best described as a wonderful chemistry between romance, ease and pragmatism. Yet despite his accomplishments, the man is fiercely private.
One of Antwerp's most successful exports and by far the most international, Van Noten's collections are both beautiful and peregrine, often referencing faraway places and exotic souvenirs. Wearing Dries is a bit like entering a world of breezy and effortless style, making his creations timeless and utterly desirable. Despite enduring decades of success with his fashion empire, Van Noten craves nothing more than reality and the obvious pleasures of simple things. There is a life beyond fashion after all. In an exclusive interview with Oyster, he shares his secrets about longevity, the importance of Belgium and why gardening is very much like fashion design. Philippe Pourhashemi writes.
Can you talk us through your last women's Autumn/Winter 09/10 show? What did you want to focus on?
I wanted to focus on unusual colours whiles using simple shapes. The idea was to mix those shapes with progressive prints. In this collection, each print can have several lives: monochrome, fragmented, distorted or even embroidered.
The colour palette was unusual, rich and quirky. What, or who, did you have in mind with these combinations?
I was very much inspired by the shades of Francis bacon's paintings: shrimp pink, beige, ochre, orange and mauve. I decided to show them in a new, unexpected way, as pure blocks of colour, which made them as strong as light. It was also important for me to express a kind of femininity flirting with masculine touches, giving it an overall androgynous feel.
Embellishment, decoration and print are some of your trademarks, yet there's nothing 'overdressed' about your clothes. Where does fantasy end and reality start?
I really try to create a kind of osmosis between fantasy and reality, so that there is no separation between the two. Even if our creations have 'couture' elements, it is the process of conceiving and producing 'pret-a-porter' that we deeply love!
You are famous for being pragmatic in that you make clothes people can actually wear. Is it hard finding a balance between creativity and commerce?
My approach to design is clearly more instinctual than cerebral or strategic. I always make sure that incredibly creative or exuberant pieces are combined with more sedate basics.
Fashion is increasingly exposed in the media and it seems everyone wants to be a designer. Are you annoyed when fashion people act like celebrities?
Or is it celebrities acting like fashion people? I have always enjoyed the fact that there is room for everyone. It seems to me that the media is partly responsible for this as people's desire to get involved with other creative fields always increases. The way people create and buy clothes will change. In fact, it has changed already. This has, however, had little bearing on my passion for my work.
During the CFDA cocktail party in New York last year, you stated that: "Fashion is hard work. It's not just accepting awards and going to parties." Was the whole experience a bit foreign to you?
True, it was like that, yet pleasantly so.
Which aspects of the industry do you like and dislike the most?
Like all good recipes, each ingredient plays a part to create a whole that I love. This is all that matters in the end.
What are the secrets for having a long career in fashion? Can you share some with us?
Persistence, patience, perseverance and passion! Moreover, I have always believed that economic independence informs and sustains creative independence. This freedom is the backbone of my work, even if I have to admit that staying independent is always a challenge.
Could you imagine working and living elsewhere than in Antwerp? What does the city bring you personally and creatively?
I really could not imagine being elsewhere. I believe living in Belgium, and particularly Antwerp, has brought me a completely different point of view on a lot of things. Once I am done with a collection, I can go back to Antwerp and see the fashion circus with a healthy dose of distance. If I were to live elsewhere, it is logical that I would start approaching things in a completely different way.
You're a fairly private man, and one of your passions is gardening. How did you get into it?
I got into it because of my grandfather and his passion for colours, which he passed onto me. I love all colours, even the strange ones and it is always a challenge for me to use them, either in my work or in my garden. Gardening, for me, is a bit like working on a collection. There are different trends there and so many different shapes! It allows me to stay grounded and literally keep my fingers connected to the earth. It also triggers some very strong emotions in me.
Are you moved by flowers, too?
Oh yes. Flowers are a powerful symbol of elegance and femininity. Looking at them from that perspectives tend to remind me that gardening is not so removed from fashion, but more like an extension of it.
You've probably fulfilled most of your ambitions and aspirations by now. What is there left to dream about?
Fashion design and gardening are not the only dreams I have in life and I consider myself fortunate as a result. I love the idea of not being forced to make choices between my passions. My dream is to keep my freedom financially and creatively. These are dreams I actively defend and will always fight for. At this point in my career, I feel content and privileged. Things don't necessarily become easier as one gets older, but maturity has taught me how to take a step back and handle things with calm.
Apart from gardening, where do you find peace?
Any kind of journey brings me peace.
Images via Sonny Vandevelde