Top image: Backstage at Dries Van Noten FW16 menswear. Photography Raffaele Cariou.
After 30 years in business, Belgian designer Dries Van Noten has opened up his studio and home for new documentary, titled Dries.
For an entire year, German filmmaker Reiner Holzemer documented the precise steps that Van Noten takes to conceive four collections – the rich fabrics, embroidery and prints exclusive to his designs. We’re taken on a journey into Van Noten’s home life, through his Antwerp studio, and behind the scenes at the designer’s formidable Paris fashion week show. Holzemer also interviews some of Van Noten’s friends and fans: fashion journalist Suzy Menkes and doyenne of style Iris Apfel sing his praises and provide insight into his philosophies, creative development and influence.
Ultimately, the film offers a rare and intimate glimpse into the life, mind and creative heart of Dries Van Noten, a designer who has remained independent in fashion (a rarity) with no outside investment, no ad campaigns, and very few celebrity dress credits. Here, Holzemer reflects on Dries ahead of its UK premiere next week.
“I read about his beginnings, the Antwerp Six and their breakthrough in London in the 80s… I really love the idea of entering a world I never had the possibility to discover before.”
Nazanin Shahnavaz: Why have you decided to focus on Dries Van Noten as the subject for your film?
Reiner Holzemer: In the summer of 2010, I was shooting a documentary on the fashion photographer Juergen Teller. Juergen was photographing the actress Dakota Fanning in a summer collection of Dries Van Noten in his garden in Antwerp. That ́s how I met Dries for the first time. At that time, I had been shooting several documentaries about photographers and wanted to make a film about another type of protagonist. So I was open for a new subject and the fashion industry seemed quite interesting to me, especially because I had been reading a few articles about the pressure designers have to endure by creating an increasing number of collections a year. Dries is different, he is still independent and that made him even more interesting to me.
Nazanin: When did you first discover his work?
Reiner: When I first met Dries, I didn’t know so much about his work. But I really liked the collection Juergen was photographing. So I did some research and found out that Dries is a very important cult figure in the fashion world. I read about his beginnings, the Antwerp Six and their breakthrough in London in the 80s. All those elements made me even more curious and curiosity is the main motivation for me to make a documentary. I really love the idea of entering a world I never had the possibility to discover before. And to discover it with my camera.
“My film starts with Dries saying, “The word, ‘fashion’, I don’t like. I would like to find a word which is more timeless.” This quote says all about his relation to the culture of fashion in my opinion.”
Nazanin: What impact has he had on the industry?
Reiner: I am not a fashion expert, so I don’t think that I am the right person to answer that question properly. But I can say that he is still very influential in the fashion world. His ideas are often copied and the press is always there when he has a show in Paris, an exhibition or a book published. He has a strong voice in the industry and his collections sell well all over the world despite the fact that he refuses to advertise his brand. This is quite extraordinary.
Nazanin: How does he relate to the culture of fashion?
Reiner: My film starts with Dries saying, “The word ‘fashion’, I don’t like. I would like to find a word which is more timeless.” This quote says all about his relation to the culture of fashion in my opinion. Dries loves what he does, the creative process and the craftsmanship behind it, the sophisticated techniques of the fabric industry but he does not like, what many people call “the fashion circus”. For him, creating fashion is essential, but he also wants to handle it all in a natural, normal and honest way.
Dries is also a very emotional man. He does not show this part of his personality so much in public but you can notice it in each of his shows in Paris.
Nazanin: How would you describe Dries as a person?
Reiner: Dries is the most discrete person I have ever met in my life and he is a perfectionist: at home when he puts flowers in a vase, when he dresses a dinner table or when he prepares food for his friends. Every little detail has to be perfect. And the same thing happens when he is designing a collection and this is one of the main reasons for his worldwide success in my opinion.
Nazanin: What are some of his intimate qualities that you discovered while shooting the documentary?
Reiner: Dries is also a very emotional man. He does not show this part of his personality so much in public, but you can notice it in each of his shows in Paris. With quite simple ideas he is able to achieve great emotional effects. I have often seen people cry after his shows, which felt incredibly moving.
Nazanin: Where there any surprises along the way?
Reiner: When I was shooting this film, Dries surprised me almost every day with his new designs and ideas, but also with his detailed knowledge of craftsmanship. This makes him a real designer, in the sense of the word. Dries is not a creative director who gives the main ideas to a team and then lets other people do the work. He wants to put his hands on every single piece, that later will become part of a huge collection.
Dries screens 17th July 2017 at the Picturehouse Central in London.