Dries Van Noten Talks Antwerp, Independence, and Loving Things That Are Ugly

Dries Van Noten

Photo: Getty Images

Dries Van Noten and host/curator Pamela Golbin at the Alliance Française.

New York, Paris, Milan, and London may be the fashion capitals of the world, but Dries Van Noten is very happily settled in Antwerp, thank you very much. Luckily, the designer does drop by every now and then.

Thursday night at the French Institute Alliance Française, Von Noten let curator Pamela Golbin—and a rather full auditorium of fans—into his world.

“I love big cities, but for me it would be rather difficult to live in a big city,” he said of his preference toward Antwerp, Belgium, where he was born, raised, and went to school. He calls the city “a healthy step back—I can look at the world from a distance.”

For Van Noten, independence is not just about geography: the designer owns his own company and acts as both the creative director and CEO.

“I like the independence,” he said. “[There’s] the possibility that you can do whatever you want.” For example, Van Noten refuses to do pre-collections—despite pressure from retailers—and he has no licensing agreements for fragrances or sunglasses.

“It’s not my intention to do things differently from other people,” he said. “[For me] it’s the only way to do things. I make clothes that I want to make.”

Luckily, he also makes clothes that men and women want to wear, too—including self-described “geriatric starlet” Iris Apfel, who introduced Van Noten by saying they were “transatlantically joined at the hip.”

“I’m not a fashion designer that makes clothes just for shows,” Van Noten said. “ I think that’s a lie. I don’t do couture…. I make clothes for people to buy.”

Funnily enough, Van Noten’s beautiful wares often start with something less than appealing, he says.

“Nothing is more boring than something beautiful, he said. “I like things that are ugly, that are surprising … [If one season] I’m thinking I don’t like lilac, I know, okay, there will be a lot of lilac in the collection!”