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Porter
Art of Style

The Designer: Dries Van Noten

He’s one of the fashion world’s most admired figures but also one of its most reticent: interviews with DRIES VAN NOTEN are a rarity and the number of stores trusted to sell his collections few and far between. Here, some of his closest collaborators and collectors explain just what makes the Belgian designer so special

Fashion
Designer Dries Van Noten with model Sara Blomqvist

Cate Blanchett, actress

“I first stumbled upon Dries’ designs in the early 1990s in Sydney at a small boutique, Belinda, run by Belinda Seper, a woman with an extraordinary eye. I bought a shirt, which I still own. I’ve long worn his clothes in my private life; they are always assembled in a way that is exquisite yet utilitarian. He has this rare gift for juxtaposing often seemingly competing elements to create something arresting and harmonious. As a result, pieces I’ve had for a decade still feel fresh and alluring. His clothes have become so personal.”

Sam McKnight, hair stylist

“He is totally unique. You can see from a piece of clothing that it’s Dries. I think he loves women so there’s an intelligence to [what he does] and always an artful quality to it – every show could be a gallery installation. For me, doing hair for that, with Peter Philips on makeup, is like an orchestra: everyone has to be playing their instrument really well and Dries has written the symphony and is conducting at the same time. [His collections] are all so beautiful and it’s never the same thing twice, everything has its own personality. I love his very restrained, poetic aesthetic, I respond very well to that. It’s a very modern, bold, intelligent take on dressing, and his pieces don’t date from one season to the next, they’re timeless.”

Alek Wek, model

“The man that Dries is – talk about class. He appreciates the art [of fashion], the colors and the way they fit. [In a Dries design] you’re still a woman and you’re still cool. I love Dries; there are pieces I have from 15 years ago. At the 100th anniversary show, we [models] all cried; it was so emotional, even for the producer who was this hard guy. Even those of us who are no longer in the business, we all came out because of Dries. We need more guys like him, who can celebrate women. I’m blessed to work with such designers.”

COLLECTION PERFECTION
The designer’s landmark 100th show was held in Paris in March 2017

Cecilia Chancellor, model

“I think of Dries as a high-integrity designer, doing his own thing, not a follower of fashion. He seems to be interested in and inspired by different cultures; he uses exquisite and original fabrics and loves color. His designs never feel overdone or gaudy, even when he’s using strong colors and prints, often together. Everything is well cut with him and easy to wear – his past collections seem as relevant now as his new ones. His clothes feel comfortable, special and luxurious at the same time. I always felt appreciated and looked forward to working with him. The 100th show [in March 2017] was really magical for me: to be reunited with so many models from my generation was such a joy. It had a soulful, moving atmosphere that I think was felt and appreciated by the audience as well as the models.”

Nancy Rohde, stylist

“I started working with Dries on his spring/summer 2001 collection if my memory serves me well. I had been a regular attendee of his shows and an admirer of his vision. I would describe him as a lover of all things beautiful, even if those things are not immediately apparent to others; as a designer, he’s constantly trying to move on the fashion narrative, but managing to do this while making clothes that don’t fall too far out of that narrative to become alien to the wearer. Obviously, print and the love of color is something that most people associate with Dries. I would hope that people can also sense the labor of execution: every collection is meticulously researched and explored. He has stood the test of time because he keeps evolving, he is not scared to take risks, he is not scared to challenge himself and lastly because he is like a sponge – he absorbs information with an open mind like no one I have ever met: he listens, absorbs, processes and evaluates constantly.”

Peter Philips, makeup artist

“Dries is very passionate about his collections and his briefings are always a treat. He walks you through the whole collection, explaining everything from prints and cuts to fabrics and embroidery. I believe the first time I did a Dries show was fall/winter 2004. It was a great experience: I did a dark gray glitter smoky eye on a pure and natural face inspired by the set design, a wall of mirrored disco balls. Dries must have thought I was a bit of a weirdo because I requested beds to be placed in the makeup area backstage to prevent the glitter from falling down all over the girls’ faces and clothes; I laid the girls down while doing their eye makeup. When I graduated as a fashion student at the Antwerp Royal Academy in 1993, Dries was one of the jury members invited to judge our graduation collections. I would never have imagined that 10 years later I would be asked to do the makeup for his show and that today, in 2019, I would still do his makeup looks. A small part of me feels like that fashion student again, season after season.”

Lisa Immordino Vreeland, filmmaker

“When I made the film on Dries for my video series, Art of Style, in 2017, I felt so lucky to have so much rich visual material and references to use. There is a precision to the manner in which Dries designs; he has a story that he wants to tell and through his narrative he gives us a glimpse into what he is creating. His love of the past gives him the chance to discover and explore new worlds and characters, yet he has the uncanny ability of bringing the past into the world of today with elegance and modernity. I have been a fan of his work for so many years. With the same devotion that he gives to his work, his homes are beautifully curated interiors and continue to be a source of continuous enjoyment for himself and friends.”

Kristina de Coninck, model

“I had already worked with Dries in Antwerp before I walked in his first show. I met him at the end of the ’80s and we did some pictures together. I was already 28, which is unusual for a model. He encouraged me to go to Paris. [Working with him] you almost feel like it’s a big family – I don’t see him often but when I do it always feels like it was just yesterday. He’s a very down-to-earth man, a hard worker and he organizes things very well. His clothes are always very pleasing to the eye, the shapes and the colors are very harmonious. You can feel the work behind them and through that he shows a little part of himself.”

FANS IN HIGH PLACES
Actress Cate Blanchett, who covered her pregnancy bump with a Dries Van Noten gown at the 2008 Oscars, calls the brand “fresh and alluring”

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