Last week marked the launch of Dries, a new documentary profiling the life and work of Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten, one of the famed ‘Antwerp Six’.
The film is a fascinating exploration of the famously press-shy designer, giving an all-access pass to the studios where the brand creates their men's and women pret-a-porter collections. A look at the artisans in India who craft intricate embroidery and embellishment, behind-the-scenes at four high octane fashion shows, and most interestingly, the enchanting home that Van Noten shares with his partner in life and business, Patrick Vangheluwe.
For the first time ever, the master designer allowed a filmmaker to accompany him for an entire year, documenting the precise steps that taken to conceive four striking collections coupled with equally emblematic catwalk shows that bring the clothes to life at Paris Fashion week, from painstakingly selecting fabrics months in advance to styling the model’s hair and make up at the very last minute.
This film, with cameos from the likes of Suzy Menkes and Iris Apfel, offers an insight into the life, mind, and heart of a world renowned creative genius who, for more than 25 years, has remained fiercely independent in a landscape of fashion consolidation and globalization. Unlike many labels popular in the 1990s, the golden age of the Antwerp Six and Dries in particular, Van Noten consciously decided to not sell out to other larger brands or luxury conglomerates, preferring to run things his own way, from his own city, with his own people, which allows him to work at a much more manageable pace than other designers and creative directors who are at the helm of global commercial enterprises churning out up to 16 collections a year, killing any chance of true creativity.
The most striking element of Dries to me was the subtle oddities of the man himself. From making over 5000 garments each season just to find the perfect look, to spending hours arranging flowers to decorate his home like an art gallery, it is clear that Van Noten is a highly obsessive individual. But is precisely this often painful to watch perfectionism that results in clothes that enthrall the eye and capture the imagination of the fashion world year after year.
The filmmaker, Reiner Holzemer, gave a talk after the London premiere screening at Picture House Central, answering questions from the fashion crowd about how he managed to score such an exclusive gig with such an elusive man, and interviewed with fashion film broadcaster SHOWstudio to delve further into his creative process, both of which served to further my enthrallment with the whole project.
Holzemer, who has previously directed documentaries about iconic photographers like Juergen Teller and William Eggleston, explained that before Dries, he knew nothing of the fashion world, and only happened to meet the designer on a shoot with Teller, immediately captivated by the pieces he created. Considering Van Noten as an infamous introvert, Holzemer took a lot of time to build up a relationship that was trusting enough to give authentic view of his life, which is incredibly admirable.
Overall, I left the cinema realising my mouth had been wide open for two hours, gaping in awe at the designer’s signature bold prints, intricate detailing, theatrical shows, and ability to tell stories with clothes. Dries left a huge smile on my face; uplifting and enlightening, the antithesis of a stereotypical fashion film. For anyone in fashion, or not, I recommend this documentary if you feel like feeling inspired. Dries is available on demand now at driesfilm.com.