Vanessa Friedman, fashion director of The New York Times, interviews Dries Van Noten, a man who was literally born into fashion. He is part of the Antwerp Six, but also one of the most succesful fashion entrepeneurs in Belgium with a worldwide reputation. Dries is part of and made the history of Belgian fashion. 2017 was the year of his documentary, his 100th fashion show and a new book. During Fashion Talks 2017 he talks about the future, a big source of inspiration for him.

Looking to the past or the future?

2017 was a particular year for Dries Van Noten. Making a book and a documentary made him think about the past, but also to the future. He says he loves to look at the past, but he isn’t nostalgic. He really wants to look to the future and share this with people.

Looking back made him think about his past work, choices and difficult periods, like the nineties when designers were bought by big groups. Keep on learning is very important for Van Noten. Very interesting for him are the opinions of young people who he works with, about his work in the past. Different points of view are confronting in a positive way.

Staying outside the system and being a role model for many designers

The creations of Dries are unique in every way and his career inspires young fashion students. He stays independent, outside the system and that is what drives him. From the struggle in the eighties to convince people that Belgium could also be a fashionable country till today. The story he wants to tell is the result of a creative process where he constantly asks himself questions. “You can start with the idea to make a colourful collection and end with a black and white collection”, he says.

Living and working in Antwerp and making his own choices are very important for him and you can see that in his clothes. He says: “It’s a complete other way of living in a smaller city because you can make your own choices. People and disciplines influence each other more in a smaller city than in a big city, where everybody creates their own village.”

Vanessa Friedman & Dries Van Noten

A continuous evolution, what is fashion today?

We live in a new and increasingly digitized world where we need to move on. Also fashion changes a lot, otherwise it becomes boring. Dries Van Noten prefers to use the word ‘evolution’ instead of ‘revolution’. Fashion needs to evolve in an esthetical way, but also in the way we look at fashion and how it is sold.

Fashion is a communication tool to tell your story. Many people just want to impress and forget the main goal of fashion. For Van Noten the biggest goal remains that clients get surprised and wear his clothes.

A fascination for Francis Bacon and imperfection

Dries Van Noten says he’s scared of everything that is pretty close to perfection. Perfect beauty is boring. You need to create, surprise and challenge the whole time. He learned a lot from the artist Francis Bacon. He describes his work as ‘a disturbing beauty’. You love it and hate it at the same time, so it really works inspiring.

What about sustainability?

A hot topic in fashion is sustainability. Also Dries is concerned about the environment and he tries with his company to work in an ecological way. For example the team in India lives and works in a village outside Calcutta to avoid big factories and hard working conditions. He Thinks that if you really want to create sustainable fashion you’ll need to do much more that we can do this moment. Everybody is involved and needs to contribute.


During Fashion Talks Flanders DC organized the first Belgian Fashion Awards. Dries Van Noten won the Jury Prize. You can read more about the Belgian Fashion Awards and the other winners in this article.