Dries Van Noten

Sandra J. Ley

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA033

The world of fashion belongs to Dries Van Noten by heritage. He was born in 1958 in Antwerp, a city with an illustrious history of textile production. His grandfather and father were both tailors and apparel retailers while his mother was a collector of antique textiles. As a child, Van Noten attended fashion shows in Paris with his parents and was mesmerized.

Van Noten entered Antwerp’s prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1976 and graduated in 1981. While studying, he worked as a buyer for his father’s boutique and did freelance design for menswear labels.

In 1986, Van Noten presented his debut menswear collection in London with the Antwerp Six, a group of avant-garde fashion designers from the Royal Academy. His line was quickly picked up by high-end retailers, and positive press gave him the confidence to build his label independently. He opened his first boutique in Antwerp in 1989, and made his debut at Paris Fashion Week for menswear in 1991 and women’s wear in 1994.

A Van Noten garment begins with the design of a fabric, which is generally made exclusively for him, and around which he imagines a story. Appearing regularly in his collections are unorthodox prints, tartans in high-tech fibers, and exquisite embroidered or ethnic textiles created by specialists worldwide. The fabric “story” provides the vision for each collection.

While Van Noten oversees the development of his fabrics and designs, he maintains a creative team that collaborates to push the collections’ artistic boundaries. Pushing boundaries is a hallmark of Van Noten’s designs as well as those from the Antwerp Six, who were influenced by the postmodern deconstructionist spirit that challenged traditional conventions of fashion and beauty.

Van Noten garments are a rebellious mix of incongruous styles, fabrics, and textures. Color palettes are risky and unexpected. Stylistic elements merge from multiple continents, cultures, and time periods. For example, while one season’s collection played with masculine and feminine notions by designing men’s sportswear in silk and taffeta, another collection presented women’s silk duchesse skirts paired with oversized sweatshirts. He also relishes layering fabrics and presenting ethnic themes in surprising ways.

Yet for all the incompatibility of his design elements, he somehow manages to create ensembles with a strikingly original, subtle sartorial elegance. In his hands, mismatched is chic, timeless, and exceedingly wearable.

Van Noten has kept a low profile and maintained creative independence by not advertising and self-financing his business. Without corporate backing, he is free to indulge his unique creative vision, which has made him highly influential in the fashion industry.

Van Noten rejects the distraction of expanding into haute couture, a broad accessories collection, or fragrances. Instead, he keeps his business a manageable size and takes pleasure in his dual roles as creative director and chief executive officer. Having independence also permits Van Noten time to enjoy the life he’s built for himself. He spends his free time gardening at his eighteenth-century castle just outside Antwerp, and follows music, films, politics, and art, all of which, he insists, enrich his creative abilities as well as his life.

Dries Van Noten presents four shows a year (men’s and women’s fall and winter collections). His designs are sold in his thirteen boutiques across the world and stocked by over 400 retailers.

Dries Van Noten, Fall/Winter 1996 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

Reference and Further Reading

Find in Library Davies Hywel. Modern Menswear . London : Laurence King, 2008.

Find in Library ““Dries VAN NOTEN”.” Interview 42, no. 1 (February 2012): 48 .

Find in Library Jaeger Anne-Celine. “Dries Van Noten.” In Fashion Makers, Fashion Shapers: The Essential Guide to Fashion by Those in the Know , pp.48–54. New York : Thames & Hudson, 2009 .

Find in Library Stegemeyer Anne, and Holly Price Alford. “Dries Van Noten.” In Who’s Who in Fashion 5th Edition , p.381. New York : Fairchild Books, 2009 .

Find in Library Tucker Andrew. Dries Van Noten: Shape, Print and Fabric . New York : Watson-Guptill, 1999.