Photo by @toryrust for @barneysny
First my apologies for being a day late with my usual Monday post. As promised last week I have been doing research and getting lost in the world of Dries van Noten, perhaps to find a bit of myself. After my last post, Dries van Noten did in fact present his 100th show and unbeknownst to me until it happened, the show was about the cross generational appeal of clothes as evidenced by the diverse models that ranged in age from 20-50. These were women, who although models, came to the show with a wealth of experience, other lives and other professions. There were no big events or parties or celebrities, just the women he had worked with over the years. It was intensely personal and for lack of a better word honest. Interestingly, Dries credits his value of honesty to his early schooling and religious training in Jesuit schools.
As I mentioned, my Dries story begins at Barneys and actually so does Dries’. After disappointing his father by not going to business school and working in the family retail business, Dries went to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (paying his own way) and along with a group of other iconic Belgian designers became known as the Antwerp 6. The group of young designers, who all rebelled against the very classic couture training they received, piled into a van and drove to London to show their clothes. The emerging designers always need something to rebel against and the best combination for me in a designer seems to be when “old school” training interacts with modern times and culture. Yes, indeed to stay fresh for me means having something to rebel against. Another point of synergy, the trip to London was in 1986 and Barneys bought Van Noten’s first collection and more than 20 years later they still have Dries.
Like his counterpart, Ann Demeulemeester, whom I have also written about, Van Noten remains an independent brand, resisting the lure of unlimited resources provided by the mega luxury corporations but that sadly can often result in the demise of your unique brand. Dries owns his store and his warehouse remaining firmly based in Antwerp, a city where he says he, “feels well”. Like the other Belgian designers he does minimal or no advertising, he values independence and a smaller audience, he privileges clothes over accessories and has a love of the everyday. His life is firmly rooted in the mundane moments of his work, home, gardening, the materiality of the many garments that pass through his workshop and warehouse and his city. His store and warehouse that includes his office are considered by the city to be a kind of museums filled with found objects like the tall cupboards in his office that he bought from the Court of Justice and where the barrister’s robes used to hang. He rides a bike to work. Long before Dover Street Market incorporated this idea he has closed his store for a week between seasons to have a new display. He was the first designer to put a skirt over pants. He plays often with ambivalence and dualisms: grunge/couture, masculine/feminine, ephemeral/eternal and opulence/stark.
Surprisingly, when you look at the lushness of his clothes that reference folk costumes, exotic fabrics and embroidery, souks and markets, the designer does minimal traveling. His usual vacation is a trip to the English countryside. He brings us to those far off places through his imagination and the way he might allow a fragment of an image to create a dream (much like a fleeting image of a print catching my eye at Barneys). He like me, is a fan of coincidence. A painting, a film location, exhibitions, books takes him (and us) on travels that happen in our minds and stimulates our imagination. The realization of dreams takes time to nurture and does not always have to be expensive. We are nourished by many different kinds of food. It does not always take what you think it might to realize a dream. Yet despite this engagement with the stuff of dreams and far flung locales, his clothes are always wearable and the kind of clothes that people can actually use and wear in life. Clothes that make them feel real. Van Noten states it perfectly when he says that fashion must make you dream but cannot be a fairy tale. The outfit I am wearing above has a very special piece in the blouse but it is styled to wear to a meeting or to teach.
Always the realist, the designer maintains that life is full of mixed emotions and this is especially evident in the SS2017 collection, the one I got to choose from and the one I now own several pieces from (which I will supplement with some fabulous older Dries garments gotten from an on-line consignment shop). With lots of black, all color or no color, opulent and minimal, beaded brocades and cotton, there are pieces that put you in mind of mourning. Some of the clothes make you feel like having delirious fun. There are pieces that feel ancient, like the ones that reference Japanese prints and ones that feel modern like a long denim skirt. For some reason last week I was feeling melancholy and started to make myself feel guilty about it because my life is so extraordinarily filled with riches right now. I kept telling myself I don’t deserve to feel this way. The clothes I am looking at and wearing seem to give you permission to feel simultaneously happy and sad. The designer tells us in this collection to be incredibly happy but that to feel a little melancholy means you are capable of a range of emotions, that you can feel many things. This is the nature of the human condition, we are never just one way. Perhaps that is why I needed to come closer to this man and start wearing more of his beautiful clothes.
Did you ever find something of yourself in a garment you happened to stumble upon?