His celebrity clients include actresses Julia Roberts, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett, which says a lot. With a painterly color palette and pitch-perfect eye for balancing relaxed, menswear-inspired pieces and womanly élan, he has been a mainstay in the fashion industry for nearly twenty-five years. His menswear is at times romantic, rustic, worldly and never afraid of pattern and color. His influence has matriculated down to many of the newer generations of designers, despite of (or perhaps because of) his choice to reside and work in Antwerp.
Last night, Dries Van Noten feted the opening of his men's and women's stores at Bergdorf Goodman followed by an intimate dinner. We were fortunate enough to contact the debonair and stylish gentleman and ask a few questions via email earlier in the week, and he had lots to say, from his first memories of attending fashion shows as a child to his personal motto, to his time at The Royal Antwerp Academy.
Out: You would go with your father to see the collections in Milan. Do you remember that experience? Did any shows make a big impact on you?
Dries Van Noten: I can't recall exactly the tipping point of when I really understood what fashion was, as it was, like you pointed out, something I was constantly surrounded by. For me it was something unavoidable and something that I embraced very early on. I had a very precocious sensitivity to the world of fashion that came from both my grandfather and father. I was lucky enough to be informed of the industry and how it works from an earlier age than most people. I learned how to love fabrics, the way they drape and how they feel. Accompanying my mother on her trips to Paris and Milan for the shows was also a great, exciting moment for me -- just to see the spectacle of it all.
Your first collection under your name was purchased by Barneys. Did you expect to find commercial success so quickly?
I don't think that it can be said that automatically everything was an immediate commercial success. Yes, that was indeed a great surprise for us and helped me enormously but, of course, there were lows in the nineties and we did have doubts about whether it may be a good idea to sell to the big conglomerates. Once we got through all of that it became easier and remains one of the main reasons why I am so happy to now be able to call myself an 'independent' designer.
What was your time at Antwerp Academy like? What did you take away from training there? What advice do you have for young designers today?
When I was at the Royal Antwerp Academy we had a teacher named Madame Prigeot, a very conservative bourgeois lady who leaned towards a more strict way of teaching. By imposing a lot of limitations on our work (no short skirts, no jeans, etc.) we were forced to think more about how to do something different, and be creative with fashion.
How does the city of Antwerp, and being outside of fashion capitals like Milan and Paris, affect the way you see clothing and design?
Living and working in Belgium probably offers us a more wide view on fashion. For me, not living in a fashion capital gives me the opportunity me to come back after the shows, take a deep breath, clear my mind and get started on the new collections.
Do you approach your menswear differently than your womenswear? Do you see them connected in some way?
I would be inclined to think that menswear is more difficult for me to design. There are a lot more restrictions in the different sartorial directions one can take.
I begin every collection, be it for men or women, with the fabric and then move along from there. However, it can happen that having worked on a men's collection for so long that when preparing for the women's there are indeed ripple effects.
For fall 2010 you sent your models down the runway with hand-radios playing hip hop, rock n' roll and New Wave. Is that in any way a reflection of your musical tastes?
For the music for that collection, I was really inspired by the idea of young kids playing music loudly on their iPods on the the bus or train, that aspect of everyone listening to something different. I myself appreciate many different types of music, there's so much out there, it would be hard not to.
What's your idea of the perfect vacation?
Capri is somewhere I know very well, and love. I feel at home there and four days in Capri replenishes me as much as a fortnight elsewhere. I also really love going to England to look at some of the beautiful gardens.
What's your motto?
That the heart can rule and guide the head and hands
Top photo courtesy of Michael Jansson; bottom photo courtesy of Getty