Dries Van Noten looked over the balcony at the boats tipping and swaying on the water in Antwerp’s harbour.
Even with the thin winter sun filtering through the windows on to the stacks of patterned fabrics in the Belgian designer’s studios, it all seemed a long way from the magical, hot-coloured fashion moment in Paris last September.
That was when Dries stunned the fashion world by secretly partnering with Christian Lacroix, drawing on the legacy of the former fashion designer, whose vision was soaked in the sunshine of the South of France, in contrast to the more down-to-earth Belgian designer.
There were many things to talk about with Dries on his home territory. I wanted especially to learn more about his recent switch to partial ownership by Puig, after Dries, now 61, sold a majority stake to the Spanish-based, family-owned company, famous for its fragrance and beauty products.
But I had to start our conversation with that magical – and unexpected – collaboration. What had inspired this most unlikely fashion marriage with Lacroix?
“Fashion has to reflect what is happening in the world, but that isn’t getting much nicer, and we have to give people a remedy – a kind of cure,” Dries explained. “The way you dress can make you stronger; you can express things and find fun in life even when the world is grim. So we explored that kind of exuberance and fun, dressing up with ruffles and organza ribbons. That was the story I wanted to tell when I saw pictures from couture collections by Lacroix. But I had to ask, ‘Is it inspiring? Is it the right moment? Did it age well? Is it relevant? Are there interesting things to take from it?’ That’s the fun part of my job.”
This week, the first of the Dries Van Noten Spring/Summer 2020 collection goes on sale – at the same time that the designer is showing his Autumn/Winter 2020 menswear collection in Paris.
The story of the Lacroix collaboration started with the Belgian designer undertaking extensive research before contacting Lacroix himself. “We began the project without him, to see how far it could go,” Dries said. “I didn’t want it to become some sort of homage. It had to be something real that could make reference to his collections – polka dots, historical jacquards, the things that he used a lot – but still keeping it a Dries Van Noten collection, so it doesn’t become a relic, a homage or a knock-off. But there was also my identity, my fun, my vision.”
Dries said he was “too star struck” to approach Lacroix directly, so he contacted him digitally. The reply was “Yes!” And the unexpected melding of clean white trousers with baroque prints, flowers and feathers, puffs of fabric tinged with Lacroix’s inimitable painterly colours, was one of those unforgettable “fashion moments”.