In today’s culture where a successful fashion designer is as much of a star as the celebrity customers they dress, Dries Van Noten is quite the exception. True he does quietly outfit Cate Blanchett for all her trips down the red carpet, but this quiet and unassuming extremely talented Belgian is much happier at home in the grounds of his country house tending to his garden than living a glamorous life that fills column inches in gossip magazines.
Dries, a new documentary by Reiner Holzemeris an affectionate and flattering profile of the designer that starts tracing his steps when he trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and by the time he left in 1980 was recognized as part of the Antwerp 6. This informal group of young fashion designers was determined to make their own mark in an industry which to date had not considered their city/country as a source of creative fashion.
Dries exhibited his first menswear collection in London with the group in 1986 when he got his first order from Barneys in New York and he has never looked back from there.
What was particularly interesting was that Holzemer filmed Dries in front of a screen showing several of this past runway shows which not only gave us an opportunity to see how his style kept evolving, but also as Dries narrated it gave him the chance to be completely candid about each of his collections. He was refreshingly honest pointing out the seasons where success alluded him, particularly in the early 1990’s when minimalism was the order of the day.
His truthfulness extends to his own personal behavior when he confesses to being more than a tad of a control freak who likes to allocate every minute of his time usefully, even when he takes a rare day off visiting famous gardens in England. That all seems to be totally OK with his husband and business partner of the last 30+ years Patrick Vangheluwe who steadfastly very happily supports Dries in all of his demands.
The main joy of the film, however, is seeing Dries and his creative team at work in their wonderful converted warehouse in the center of Antwerp. Seeing them prepare each collection in minute detail and then how they painstakingly whittle it down to what will end up on one of his beautifully choreographed runway show and then in the stores is completely enthralling.
The continued success of Dries, or as we should now call him after the King has recently enobled him Baron Van Noten, seems to be down to not just his remarkable flair for fashion but also that he avoided Haute couture and insists ‘I don’t like the idea of showing things that you don’t sell in a store‘. He also has bucked all the norms by never advertising, and unlike all his other competitors has refused to sell the business and has kept Dries Van Noten his very own to this day.
It is a fascinating profile of one of the world’s most unlikely fashion designers. An affable and charming deeply private man, so much so that it is quite a surprise he ever agreed to let them make this film. However we are so pleased he did.