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Dries Van Noten

Kai von Rabenau
A World in Seaseon
I love to learn from things I can’t appreciate.

His recent summer collection was called a ‘revolution’ in fashion and the women’s coats he just showed in Paris for the upcoming winter season 2009/10 were celebrated as ‘sartorial symbols of this recession’s sudden shift in aesthetics.’ But Dries van Noten doesn’t believe in such impulsive movements; he just goes on changing ‘how we look at fashion and the world in general’.

If you ask the designer who turned 50 last year what is different in fashion now compared to when he started his eponymous brand in 1985, he says: ‘Everything has changed, in step with the world.’

In an industry where a few global players are trying to orchestrate the luxury market with world wide must-haves and more and more pre-collections, the fashion designer from Antwerp stands out as one of the last able to stay consistent in his signature and his own way of a – let’s call it organic trade. While fellow designers of his generation sold their labels to investors or just gave up, Dries van Noten remained authentic and financially independent as the only owner of his brand.

As the new world order started shaking, the Belgian refashioned the clay without losing his characteristic talent for combining a remarkable sense for fabrics and a subtle feel for idiosyncratic colours, with distinctive layering of prints and ethnic elements like embroidery. A consequent evolution of his previous work, he created a desirable collection of effortless and literally ‘ready-to-wear’ clothing. But before presenting what he had cultivated for this summer season, he cut his plants and the results – modern silhouettes with traditional references – appeared even fresher and stronger than before.

The grandson of a garment maker graduated from the Antwerp Fashion Academy in 1980 and presented his first menswear collection in London as part of the famous ‘Antwerp Six’ collective that made Belgium an epicentre of avant-garde fashion.

In 2008, he was honoured with the ‘International Designer of the Year’ award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America ‘not just for his recent great collections,’ but also for his ‘body of work and independence’ and for being ‘proud of his roots and true to himself which shows in his clothes.’

The conversation with Dries van Noten took place in a setting reminiscent of an old Flemish still life painting: at a very long table prepared for lunch in the company’s renovated warehouse in Antwerp, in the historic part of the harbour once built by Napoleon.