Fashion

Cast on separate journeys of uncharted, spiritual self-discovery, Craig Green’s anonymous nomads and Dries Van Noten’s psychedelic wanderers of SS19 may have chosen divergent paths, yet both pursued the same consciousness-expanding endgame.

Showing in Florence as Pitti Uomo guest designer, Green took his man on a holistic approach: mazing between the Boboli Gardens’ Roman effigies and antiquities in search of transcendental meaning and abstract turns, his memories tied to silhouettes like hazy apparitions. While in Paris, Van Noten opted for more artificial stimulants, taking a kool-aid trip into psychedelic enlightenment via Verner Panton’s sinuous structures. Both marked a call to action – challenging us to look at the world from a different perspective, engage with altered states and distort the norm.

Van Noten and Green may be operating at different points in their respective careers, yet they tread a familiar path: both have succeeded in creating thriving, independent, eponymous brands; both consistently challenge concept and form; and both are fuelled by the potential to make an audience really feel. The ability to conjure meta-realities where flickering emotions can ignite and blaze, it’s something so rare to most, yet common to this pair. Vibrating between fantasy and reality, an invitation to their show holds far more value than the material it’s printed on, they’re portals to abstract worlds that, while fleeting, leave you floating in the memory.

Having first emerged as part of the Antwerp Six – a group of graduates from the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 80s – Van Noten built his brand as a master of print, pattern and texture. Over three decades, he has woven together a rich, textured tapestry of eclectic impressions and subtle splendour – the kind of output you don’t just witness, but sense every inch of thought that has gone into it. For Green, graduating from the Central Saint Martins MA in February 2012 kickstarted a journey that now sees him at the vanguard of an invigorated London menswear scene. Building a body of work defined by a visual consistency and ritualistic poetry, in recent years Green has outfitted the interstellar crew of Ridley Scott’s 2017 epic Alien: Covenant and had his garments shown in New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

It’s inside Van Noten’s five-story Antwerp studio – a former exporter warehouse – that Green and Van Noten meet for this interview. Among endless walls of fabrics, buttons, thread, labels, feathers and other exquisite haberdashery, Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers serenades garments swinging from ceiling rails, and these two dreamers cross paths.

Craig Green: I’ll start with something I want to find out. How has it been running an independent brand for so long and how have you managed to maintain that?
Dries Van Noten: It just happened. I think it has something to do with the fact we are in Antwerp, which has a sort of distance – both physical and intellectual – from the French houses. Also, in Antwerp, the city itself and its history, we have had so many what we call ‘visitors’ from France, Holland, Austria, Spain, our history is extremely complicated because we had so many invasions. So there’s a mentality of always finding a way to manage because there have always been different people telling us how we have to do things. The attitude of people in Belgium is two feet on the ground, stay realistic and find a solution – not always the most evident, but the most logical and straightforward for you.

CG: Yes, you can’t apply the same rules to everything so you figure out new ways of thinking that work for you.
DVN: Exactly. You make your own, you do what seems logical to you and what makes the maximum impact with the possibilities you have. So when we started as young designers with the six of Antwerp, we rented a van, we drove to London and we showed our clothes as part of the British Designers Show, which at the time was the place where Betty Jackson, Vivienne Westwood, Katharine Hamnett and those kinds of people were showing. It was also the place where John Galliano was hanging around, they were all on the first floor. We rented a space and divided it up into six parts, but we were stupid not to negotiate where the spot was, so we were on the third floor behind the British wedding dresses, that’s why the space was so cheap for us. Of course we were dreaming to be together with all the young British designers, but we weren’t.

CG: What a surprise to find all of you behind the wedding dresses [both laugh].
DVN: So the first day we didn’t see anybody, we went to the secretary for the fair and we made a stencil – at that time it wasn’t a photocopy but a stencil machine – saying ‘Come and see the six Belgian designers’. We then made a schedule for each of us to stand at the escalators and hand out these leaflets. The first customer who discovered me behind the wedding dresses was Barneys New York, they loved it and bought a lot. For me, that was when it became real.

CG: Now it’s actually happening.
DVN: Yes. After that, I had one buyer in London, which was Whistles, and a big customer in Amsterdam, so I had three orders and quickly had to start my company. Craig: How did you work out how to do all the production? Dries: It’s a long story. So in Belgium, we all studied together but across two different years, Walter [Van Beirendonck] and Martin [Margiela] were one year higher than we were, but we were always sitting in the same classroom because the fashion school was so small we only had one classroom. We went out together, we went on holiday together and we had a lot of fun. At that time in the early 80s, there was a lot of clothes production here in Belgium, the government did an investigation and saw that for those industries to thrive they needed to add creativity, so they organised a fashion contest called the Golden Spindle, where we participated as a group. With that, we found a manufacturer who wanted to help us produce some things. That was the difference between the Belgians on the third floor and the British designers on the ground floor, the British were all busy on their stitching machines making a collection, they sold something and then it was panic, “How do we make more of these?” We did it the other way around. From the fashion contest we all had contacts who wanted to make clothes for us, I had a menswear manufacturer who wanted to make some jackets, shirts and pants for me, Ann [Demeulemeester] had a company that only made sunglasses, so she presented only a box with two sunglasses in it [Craig laughs], Walter had one that only made hand-knitted sweaters, so he made those, Dirk Bikkembergs had only shoe manufacturers, so he showed only shoes.

CG: [laughs] You all had your own niche.
DVN: I didn’t really want to start with menswear, but my only option to produce something decent was through this menswear manufacturer. Luckily, that was 1986 and it was the time of Annie Hall, so a lot of women dressed in men’s clothes. In fact, Barneys bought the collection to sell to women.

CG: Did you fight between you as to who got which manufacturer?
DVN: No because Ann was happy to just show sunglasses at the time and Dirk was very successful with the shoes. You still see that with Bikkembergs’ shoes, footwear forms the cornerstone of his business. That’s to show you that we were thinking in a very practical way.

CG: I was going to say, it’s a very pragmatic way of approaching: this is what we’re able to do, so we’ll work to those parameters.
DVN: That was the beginning of our success.

 

bodysuit by CRAIG GREEN FW19; trousers and shoes by DRIES VAN NOTEN FW19

CG: I always find that there’s so much problem solving involved in having a business.
DVN: Is it not also about pushing your creativity?

CG: But they are very linked. I always think that creating something within a boundary does help your creativity. If someone told me to do whatever I want, that would be the most terrifying prospect – I would just freeze.
DVN: The thing is, most people say, “Oh well, you’re a big company now, so you can do whatever you want.” No, there are a lot of things that I don’t have production possibilities for – we’re struggling like crazy to make a good sneaker. So no, we can’t always do what we want, sometimes it’s glueing the sole under the shoe and pretending that’s a sneaker, but you know [laughs]…

CG: [laughs] You know the reality.
DVN: Exactly. When we were at fashion school, the head of the fashion course there was not like Louise Wilson [Green’s professor of fashion design at Central Saint Martins], it was Madame Prijot, who was a very bourgeois lady in Antwerp. To her, there was only one good designer in the world, which was Coco Chanel. She said knees are the ugliest part of the woman, so we couldn’t make a short skirt, or we had to use very opaque stockings. You could never, ever show knees. She also said that jeans are for poor people.

CG: [laughs]
DVN: Long hair is untidy for girls, for boys even more. So you’d see in the early days at fashion school, everybody had little ballerina hairstyles, or sometimes she’d take students to very expensive hairdressers to cut their hair. The good thing was, having so many restrictions forced you to be very creative because you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that. The moment Madame Prijot stopped, it was like a revolution at the fashion school, everything was possible, the students could do whatever they wanted and the level of the school went down enormously. Restriction can be a very good thing and a valuable learning tool.

CG: Yeah, I think it’s an important thing. When I first started we didn’t have fabric suppliers or good factories. The factory we used in London, I’d almost design the collection in relation to their skills.
DVN: Which I still do now.

CG: But even having a few more opportunities now, it becomes much more confusing. When you have loads of fabrics arrive it’s like you’re trying to problem-solve every single one.
DVN: When my team see fabric collections I always say to choose ten, not fifty or sixty, even when the supplier is more than willing to send you all those samples. Don’t choose too much. You might make a selection of what you don’t want, but what is left isn’t definitely what you want. So that’s why restrictions are important.

 

“Restriction can be a very good thing and a valuable learning tool – Dries Van Noten”

CG: It’s definitely important. At the beginning, we didn’t even go to Première Vision [a French company that organises Textile and Fashion Fairs], nothing like that. We just had what we could buy in London, maybe one fabric supplier. Everything was about how we could use textile and construction to give value to something that maybe wasn’t so valuable on the roll. So it was about inventing through construction.
DVN: I go to fashion schools and see collections by students and you see one every once in a while who clearly has a credit card from mother in their pocket and all the possibilities because of that and those are often the weakest collections. A collection isn’t good because you use fur and silk and leather, it’s often much more about the idea and the creativity of figuring out ways to do something with less. There’s something human about it.

CG: There’s a process there.
DVN: That’s what I think is important. Possibilities are great, but craft creates a sense of individualism and personality. That’s what I like about people who don’t just wear garments, they cut the sleeves, they wear it in unusual ways and they make it their own – it becomes something more. That’s what I like to do with fabrics.

CG: I was a textile graduate before I was a fashion graduate, so everything was about that, and as a student, I didn’t have money… there’s something amazing about using a fabric that everybody uses, or that everybody has, and trying to do something different with it. That’s almost more impressive than inventing it from scratch.
DVN: It’s changing the way people associate with something.

CG: So do you miss those days of having less choice?
DVN: It’s different. It had a simplicity and in some ways more spontaneity, which I do miss sometimes. Of course, last year was strange because it was the hundredth show and it took maybe eighteen months to prepare everything. A lot of people ask if things have changed a lot because we’re not independent anymore [Van Noten sold a majority share in his label to Spanish luxury group Puig in 2018], but no, not at all.

CG: Have you felt any change?
DVN: In my mind. So the day after, when I opened the front door with my key, it was a strange feeling, like it’s not completely my building anymore. So that was… strange [laughs]. You build it up year after year, and then it’s not totally yours anymore. I also want to perform well, it’s in my education and upbringing. So I was more nervous than ever when we signed on the 17th June and we had the menswear show the next week. I was so nervous and prayed it would be good because otherwise they’d say, “Oh my goodness, what did we buy?” [laughs] You feel responsible.

harness and headpiece by CRAIG GREEN FW19; jacket and trousers by DRIES VAN NOTEN FW19

CG: The SS19 womenswear show was incredible.
DVN: I was happy with it. We were also very lucky because the sun was shining. It was with a glass roof so I was really hoping for a sunny day with the light reflecting on the wall.

CG: Do you now find that you have more time to focus on design?
DVN: No, not at all. New products, new things happening, I don’t think it’s a secret that perfume is going to happen sooner rather than later.

CG: Is that something you’ve always wanted to do?
DVN: I like it. Do you?

CG: I think there’s something exciting about it, it’s something that can reach people that believe in a brand but feel either alienated from the clothing, or it’s just not within their price point.
DVN: That is very exciting for me also. It’s a completely different sensory thing, with fabrics it’s tactile and visual, smell is completely different. It’s something I’d love to dive into and discover much more than I have time for. I didn’t realise that perfume is a very long production and development time, if you do something now, you’re talking about 2020, 2021.

CG: Does it work in a way where you go to a laboratory and mix it?
DVN: Erm, no.

CG: It’s not like you’re making a potion in a big white coat?
DVN: [both laugh] Not really, it’s specialised people who do all that. I give directions but it stays quite technical.

CG: It’s also exciting to create the bottle.
DVN: Yes, the perfume bottle, the name. We aren’t completely there yet, but it’s…

CG: Intense but exciting.
DVN: Intense is the right word [laughs].

CG: Another thing that I always think is really amazing about what you do with your brand is that you’ve retained a singular voice throughout. How do you not give in to pressure from around you to switch and change?
DVN: I have to listen to those voices. I have a very good team here, but at certain moments you also have to be able to swipe everything from the table and say, “I believe in this.”

CG: You believe in what you want to say.
DVN: Yes. One of the rules we say is when something sells well, we don’t repeat it. People wanted to buy it, they have it, and now they have to buy something else.

CG: Don’t give the customer what they already have [laughs]. Do you like the business side of it?
DVN: I love it, you?

CG: Yeah, I’ve always loved it. Only in the last two months, the production department completely changed and I took on production duties again. So now I haggle with the factories and do the costing and everything like that. That’s what I did up until maybe two years ago, I love seeing the overall picture and problem solving in that way – adapting and changing.
DVN: I always compare the job I do with a good bakery. I think it doesn’t make sense to make the most beautiful cake when there is nobody to eat it. You have to push things, but, for me, it’s only successful when somebody buys it. Also, we never do things just for the fashion show. We make the collection and once it’s done I can distil the show from the collection. OK, maybe once in a while we add something to make the story right, but basically everything you see you can find in the store. For me, fashion only makes sense when you can buy it. In that way I am conscious of price, so maybe I have a nice t-shirt at a good price for the younger customer who doesn’t have a big budget.

 

“I’m very happy that we have the internet and the world is one big place, but on the other hand, everything has become more generic and immediate” – Dries Van Noten

CG: Did you always want to be a fashion designer?
DVN: No. My parents had fashion stores, so as a young kid I went on buying trips with them to Paris, Düsseldorf, Florence, and I grew up seeing fashion shows and things like that. It could’ve gone both ways, I was either going to hate it and revolt against it or I’d love it. I loved it [laughs]. I spoke to my parents about what I should study and they said I could either go to business school to learn that aspect of the stores or I could go to fashion school to study design. I studied design and it went wrong because I loved it so much I went up to my dad and said, “You know something? I love creating fashion so much – not just buying and selling it – that I’m going to become a fashion designer and I’m not interested in taking over the family business.” My father said, “Very good for you, but there is the door.” [laughs] From the first year in fashion school, I was designing commercial collections, childrenswear, sportswear, you name it, that’s how I earned money to pay for my studies and live. So in my fourth year at fashion school, I was designing four or five different collections.

CG: Wow, so you already had that direct customer and commercial approach from the very beginning?
DVN: Yes, I think that’s also what I added to the Antwerp group. Everybody added elements, Walter and Dirk van Saene were big fans of London, they went there and brought back The Face and i-D, and they discovered music like Adam and the Ants. Ann was more strict. Dirk Bikkembergs was always about men, gay, sports, those sorts of things. So everybody had their own aspect and it was an interesting mix. Everybody added something in the soup of Belgian fashion [laughs].

CG: Do you think that could ever happen again?
DVN: No. It was a time when fashion was also different. It seems like the old ages now, but it was during the whole transition between couture being less important in the early 70s and prêt-à-porter taking over. The first brands to really start that revolution were Versace and Armani. It sounds strange, but we were wild about it. Around ‘75 and ‘76, it was incredible: leather for menswear, linen, all grey looks; it was really impactful and very strong. Then immediately after, you had the French brands like Mugler and Gaultier, in the 80s you had the British with Vivienne Westwood, Katherine Hamnett and John Galliano in ‘80, ‘81, I think. Then you had the Japanese coming in. So for us, it was incredible – all that in six years. Can you imagine that now? For one year to be Japanese, a year later, French, etc. And at the same time, you had new designers like Comme des Garçons with black sweaters with big holes in them, it was exciting. It was like pow, pow, pow. Helmut Lang then popped up. Martin [Margiela] doing his first show in ‘88 or ‘89.

 

cape by DRIES VAN NOTEN FW19; jacket, bodysuit, trousers and bag all by CRAIG GREEN FW19

CG: Why do you think that sort of energy isn’t around now, do you think it’s to do with the media?
DVN: The world is much bigger now. I’m very happy that we have the internet and the world is one big place, but on the other hand, everything has become more generic and immediate.

CG: That’s exactly how I feel. It’s like everyone likes everything now, every music genre is one big genre, every style is one style. It’s positive in terms of connecting people, but negative in terms of invention, I think.
DVN: You lose the individuality. It’s very difficult to discover something new, you might find an artist, but then you’ll probably find that there’s already been an article in a magazine about them or something like that. Or they’ve already been picked up by a huge gallery. It’s good, it’s speed, but on the other hand…

CG: You lose the subculture.
DVN: And things can’t grow as organically anymore. In the past, with the Antwerp Six, we had time to grow and make mistakes, now of course, due to the internet…

CG: People get exposure before they are ready.
DVN: Exactly. That’s sometimes OK if you’re successful like you are, because even at your first collection there was a lot of talk about it.

CG: In some ways it’s good, but in other ways it’s hard to… I guess I started in that era and in a lot of ways that was great for me, but I do worry that in this time there’s a pressure to change constantly. In the first collections, when people weren’t looking as much, we’d develop techniques and cuts and approach. But now there’s so much pressure to change, you can’t use the same fabrics again, you can’t show the same construction again.
DVN: Why not?

CG: I think that’s just the pressure from the outside to always change.
DVN: Again to the bakery, you have the cake and the cherries and the topping. By changing the topping you can often keep the same cake. While the client does always want something else, the base, for me, it stays. There’s also something really beautiful about that sort of evolution.

CG: But nowadays people are bored before they’ve even seen something, that’s the issue.
DVN: I always say that there’s too much fashion, too many clothes, and far too many images.

CG: So much imagery.
DVN: And it has to keep getting louder, more in your face. I said I’d never do this but you have to now, at the fashion show I check pictures before it’s even done, I check what will be the impact for people looking on their phone. The first five looks have to be very strong, because after those people stop swiping.

CG: [laughs] The swipe rule.
DVN: Once they pass number five, they will then continue until nearly the end. It’s reality. I would love to make a collection with tiny little intricate motifs, but you know that when people look on their phone it just creates a marble effect on the pictures. So on the first five silhouettes, you need a bold, recognisable image.

CG: I guess that’s problem-solving in itself, those restrictions to create within. Although maybe not the most ideal [laughs].
DVN: Yes, and OK, we were talking about the past and it did have its charm but, on the other hand I think…

CG: It always looks better in hindsight.
DVN: I’m not really a nostalgic person though. I base a lot of things that I do on skills, I love to work on my fabrics with people in Lyon who still use the wooden looms from the 1920s, where they do a form of jacquard velvet. Having the possibility to use that expertise is nice, but it’s not out of nostalgia, it’s because I love the skill and the history and people who create with their heart. It’s not to copy 1920s or 1930s, it’s pushing that technique to the future. Emotion in fashion. It’s something I’m very happy to talk with you about. When I look at reviews from your shows, they often talk about emotion. And I think that’s what is so fantastic about what’s happening in London, there’s still space to work with emotion. On a small-scale too. Some collections, if you showed in Paris, they would just disappear, they wouldn’t have the chance to even be seen. But in London, with Matty Bovan and others, they get a platform and there’s something beautiful and human about them. I see the emotion in your collections and it’s really special.

CG: Thank you, that means a lot. I wasn’t interested in fashion at all when I went to art school, I wanted to be a painter or a sculptor. So I learned it as I was studying and that product side of the industry was something I was still figuring out during my first few collections. The reason I wanted to get into fashion was that I was so impressed by the fact you could have people walking up and down for five minutes with music playing and you could make people feel something about that. It’s so simple, but you can directly influence someone’s emotions in that space of time. You can make someone excited or you can make them hate something just in response to people walking to music. I went to a fashion show when I was a student and it made me feel like my heart was beating out of my chest, it was so exciting. I guess it’s got that human aspect, which sometimes art doesn’t have – you’re creating with the restrictions of the body. Each season starts with an emotion or a feeling.
DVN: What you do so well is, on one side you have the sculptural aspect, but then also the translation to the more realistic pieces. With some brands, OK, you have the really couture pieces and the main pieces, then afterwards you see the more commercial – to use a very ugly word – products. But I think that every piece you make has the same identity and idea behind it, it’s a whole universe. I think that’s what you do in a very clever way… a very beautiful way. ‘Clever’ sounds too…

CG: Calculated [laughs].
DVN: Yes [laughs].

CG: Business.
DVN: Yes, which is smart.

gilet and t-shirt by CRIAG GREEN FW19; trousers by DRIES VAN NOTEN FW19

CG: I like business, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The whole process of a collection is the battle between making something accessible and based in reality, and then the other side is to create a dream, or emotion, and make something that you are excited about when you see it.
DVN: And desirability. For me that is like, “I don’t know if I like it, but I know I want to have it.”

CG: When I was at college with Louise Wilson and working on something I felt scared about, she taught me that was a good emotion to embrace. You feel uncomfortable and you push yourself into a different way of working and thinking because that usually means that you’re onto something that might be good in the end.
DVN: Very true, but an uncomfortable situation cannot last for too long.

CG: Otherwise you’re forever uncomfortable [laughs].
DVN: Sometimes I’m jealous of painters who… OK, it’s naive of me because I always think that painters can make their work and show them when they’re ready, but in fact, the artists that I know are the most clever business people of them all – they use schedules and show all around the world in a timeframe. So effectively, it’s the same production schedule in art as it is in fashion [laughs].

CG: I used to have that same romantic idea of art, like, wouldn’t it be nice to just have a show and then wait a few years and do another show, but I guess it’s not like that [laughs].
DVN: Did you ever meet [Azzedine] Alaïa?

CG: No, never.
DVN: I met him a few times, but I had one dinner party and it was the strangest. I was sitting around the table with Alaïa, Adrian [Joffe], Rei [Kawakubo] and Patrick [Vangheluwe]. Rei, as usual, didn’t say one word. Adrian had said hello to us and at one point he said, “Rei would like to know your age.” I said 45, or whatever age I was then, and he answered to Rei in Japanese, and she just went, “Uh,” and that was the only thing she said all evening [both laugh]. Then Alaïa was talking and he said, “For me, a collection is like a fruit tree. An apple falls only from the tree when it’s ripe, so I show a collection when it’s ready. Whether it’s a winter collection in the summer, I show it still, because that’s the collection I’ve been working on and I consider it ready to be shown.”

CG: [laughs] So refreshing.
DVN: He knew that the buyers would come to Paris to see the presentation and buy the collection because he considered it to be ready. Winter clothes in the middle of summer in all the stores, it was like that.

CG: Are you a person who questions yourself a lot? Do you have a lot of self-doubts?
DVN: Of course, you don’t [laughs]?

CG: Of course [laughs], I just always wonder if it ever goes. In the studio, one day do you think something is the most amazing thing and then the next day it’s the worst?
DVN: All the time. You have to be able to take a distance. Patrick and I, we bought our house in Italy also, which is good.

 

“When I was at college with Louise Wilson and working on something I felt scared about, she taught me that was a good emotion to embrace – Craig Green”

CG: That’s something I wanted to ask you about because I work with my partner as well. Do you always talk about work? Because we do [laughs].
DVN: We had a serious crisis in our partnership when I turned 36. Turning that age was very difficult. It’s strange – it was like a mid-life crisis. I realised that I was living and working like crazy. You see friends who have children and things like that and you have to make a decision, “Is this going to be our life?” Especially when you’re working with your partner. We were living just on the outskirts of Antwerp, and so sometimes we’d be talking about work and I’d quickly grab the car and drive to the office to do something. Then you come home in a bad mood and your relationship suffers due to that. At a certain moment, we said to each other that we needed something else. So we bought a house in the countryside with a very big garden around it and it’s very demanding. It’s a big responsibility because it’s a listed property, so it forced us to sometimes take a distance.

CG: Because you have another focus.
DVN: Yes, it’s also a job, it’s running a small business there because we have staff and gardeners and all that. It’s a lot of organisation but it’s also a lot of joy. We have a vegetable garden and we’ll be like, “Oh shit, what’s happening now? We have to do the shoe collection but wait, all the raspberries are ready for picking” [both laugh]. It forces you to step back. I think that really saved our relationship. In gardening you meet a whole different set of people, very generous people, when you visit someone in another garden you always leave with some cuttings or some seeds or a pot of jam. You share things in a different way. Fashion is quite long-term, whereas in gardening you mow some grass, it’s two hours work and you did something. There are immediate results, which is very rewarding. Also the dog, Harry, of course. He forces you into a daily rhythm and takes you away from fashion. It is only fashion at the end of the day [laughs]. You live in London?

CG: Yeah, we live together in London. It’s how we met, but he wasn’t in fashion. Now my sister works with me, my partner does, my best friend from college and also one of my best friends from home, so it’s in all directions [laughs]. It’s amazing because you laugh all the time and it’s fun and they’re people you love and trust.
DVN: I’ve never worked with family but we have people in the team here who have been with us for more than 25 years, so it becomes like a family and they help you through those moments when it gets overwhelming. We have had those moments. In the middle of minimalism, when we went with all the brightest colours and Indian fabrics…

CG: I love that collection, it’s amazing.
DVN: Everyone was kind of Jil Sander grey and minimalist and Helmut Lang, but we were like, fuchsia! Gold! Velvet! That period, end of the 90s was a very difficult period for me.

CG: In life or fashion?
DVN: Everything. I had a good friend who helped me and became a director in the company but sadly passed away from cancer. It was also the time that all the big groups started to buy all the houses, they were also knocking at our door but I didn’t really feel comfortable. Tom Ford was doing the first collections with Gucci at that time and it wasn’t so much about clothes anymore, it was about handbags and gloves and shoes, so it felt like a turning point. For me, life didn’t make a lot of sense then, especially within the company. How should I proceed? Do I have to sell? Yes? No? All those things. That was a tough time. For my 100th show I made a book of all my shows, and you clearly see shows that jump out in terms of this time in my life.

CG: It must be amazing to look at all those shows and think about where you were in your life at that time.
DVN: What’s nicest is that some collections that you weren’t so keen on…

CG: The ones you hated the most [laughs].
DVN: Not hated, but… maybe it wasn’t my strongest [laughs]. So we did one men’s collection in the early days of digital printing and I loved that idea, so the whole collection was based on digital printing. Pieces were meant to be ready beginning of May, then it was end of May and the fashion show was 20th June or something, and in the end, the digital printing simply didn’t happen. So it was like, 60 percent of my collection that just didn’t happen. We had to do the show with the other 40 percent of the pieces, that were all meant to be amongst these really loud prints that didn’t get made. So these things happen.

CG: And only you know [laughs].
DVN: People were like, “The collection is great.” And I had to be like, “Yes, the inspiration was this, and this, and this” [laughs]. Also, with the 100 collections book, going to the archives with my young assistants was nice as they’d pick out things they liked that I personally thought didn’t age very well. We went through a similar procedure when I was putting together the exhibition in Paris [Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs held a Dries Van Noten retrospective exhibition in 2018], we had to be honest to ourselves, discussing what was worth putting in a museum, which was already a strange concept for me because I’m like, “What’re my clothes doing in a museum?” But you have to think about which pieces have considerable value, and which don’t.

CG: Was that exhibition a proud moment for you?
DVN: It was like a fashion show, doubting, hesitating, lots of questioning – what are my clothes doing behind glass? I never designed clothes for people to look at in that way. For me, clothes are always things for people to wear, we aren’t doing haute couture. But it was very interesting and it was more about inspirations and references than the actual collections. So how a designer thinks and works. It was scary but also great. Again, we wanted to focus on emotion.

CG: Do you think you’d ever be comfortable with someone else doing Dries Van Noten after you?
DVN: Yes. When it’s done with respect, absolutely. If it became something else, which we have seen in recent seasons at other brands, then I’d say, “OK, stop with the name, don’t do that.” But if we are standing for something, then there is a reason to continue.

CG: Do you ever think you could just be into gardening and not fashion?
DVN: No, never. Gardening is really good because you can’t control the climate, because in fashion you try to control everything – if you want fake rain in a show, you can have it, fake sun? Sure – and I love that level of detail and control. In a garden that is not the case, you have to work around external factors and be part of a greater system. I love gardening and being in Italy, but I want to do fashion always.

top by CRAIG GREEN FW19; jeans by DRIES VAN NOTEN FW19

CG: It must be amazing to look at all those shows and think about where you were in your life at that time.
DVN: What’s nicest is that some collections that you weren’t so keen on…

CG: The ones you hated the most [laughs].
DVN: Not hated, but… maybe it wasn’t my strongest [laughs]. So we did one men’s collection in the early days of digital printing and I loved that idea, so the whole collection was based on digital printing. Pieces were meant to be ready beginning of May, then it was end of May and the fashion show was 20th June or something, and in the end, the digital printing simply didn’t happen. So it was like, 60 percent of my collection that just didn’t happen. We had to do the show with the other 40 percent of the pieces, that were all meant to be amongst these really loud prints that didn’t get made. So these things happen.

CG: And only you know [laughs].
DVN: People were like, “The collection is great.” And I had to be like, “Yes, the inspiration was this, and this, and this” [laughs]. Also, with the 100 collections book, going to the archives with my young assistants was nice as they’d pick out things they liked that I personally thought didn’t age very well. We went through a similar procedure when I was putting together the exhibition in Paris [Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs held a Dries Van Noten retrospective exhibition in 2018], we had to be honest to ourselves, discussing what was worth putting in a museum, which was already a strange concept for me because I’m like, “What’re my clothes doing in a museum?” But you have to think about which pieces have considerable value, and which don’t.

CG: Was that exhibition a proud moment for you?
DVN: It was like a fashion show, doubting, hesitating, lots of questioning – what are my clothes doing behind glass? I never designed clothes for people to look at in that way. For me, clothes are always things for people to wear, we aren’t doing haute couture. But it was very interesting and it was more about inspirations and references than the actual collections. So how a designer thinks and works. It was scary but also great. Again, we wanted to focus on emotion.

CG: Do you think you’d ever be comfortable with someone else doing Dries Van Noten after you?
DVN: Yes. When it’s done with respect, absolutely. If it became something else, which we have seen in recent seasons at other brands, then I’d say, “OK, stop with the name, don’t do that.” But if we are standing for something, then there is a reason to continue.

CG: Do you ever think you could just be into gardening and not fashion?
DVN: No, never. Gardening is really good because you can’t control the climate, because in fashion you try to control everything – if you want fake rain in a show, you can have it, fake sun? Sure – and I love that level of detail and control. In a garden that is not the case, you have to work around external factors and be part of a greater system. I love gardening and being in Italy, but I want to do fashion always.