Polimoda Duets: Dries Van Noten

I Always Say We, I Never Say Me

On the occasion of Pitti Immagine Uomo 99 on PittiConnect and curated by Polimoda, the newest episode of Polimoda Duets, a series of documentary interview videos involving some of the most outstanding cultural figures of our time, features Fashion Designer Dries Van Noten. 

Dries Van Noten is the son and grandson of tailors. Growing up in a family that worked in fashion, he learned the commercial and technical side of the industry at a very young age before devoting himself to design. In 1983, Dries Van Noten launched his own collection. With a rented van and a few of his fellow graduates from the Royal Academy of Antwerp, he left for London Fashion Week. This was the beginning of his defined intellectual aesthetic, putting him on the international scene. 

One of the most successful members of the renowned Antwerp Six, Van Noten opened his first boutique in Paris in 2007, followed by one in Tokyo and many others. Today, Van Noten has six independent stores and his collection is sold all over the world.

Drives Van Noten Men Spring Summer 2021

Even though he sold his brand to Spanish group Puig in 2018, Van Noten has maintained his independent spirit and creative integrity. He remains chief creative officer and president of the brand. 

In this Polimoda Duets interview, Director and Chief Curator of the MoMu Fashion Museum Kaat Debo talks to Van Noten about the past year and the challenges that lie ahead for the future, the creative process behind his various collaborations, fashion shows, the role of emotion in fashion and the meaning of success. 

"There's a lot of advice that I would like to give to students. I think especially try to enjoy yourself. I think that is the most important thing," shares Van Noten. "Don't be overambitious. I think you have to be super ambitious, but try not to be overambitious because fashion is really hard. It's a lot of work."

Drives Van Noten Men Autumn Winter 2020-21

Van Noten received numerous prizes and awards during his career such as the CFDA International Designer of the Year Award, the title of Royal Designer for Industry of the RSA Trustee Board of London and Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Gold Medal of the Flemish Royal Academy of Belgium, the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion to the Couture Council of the Museum of FIT of New York and the Culture Award of the province of Antwerp. In 2017, he was given the title of baron by The King of Belgium in recognition of his career and cultural contribution. His drawings and inspirations have been the subject of important exhibitions at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and in Antwerp.

Polimoda Duets #14 | Dries Van Noten


Kaat Debo: Hello, I am Kaat Debo. I'm Director and Chief Curator at MoMu, Antwerp's fashion museum. I'm very happy to welcome Dries Van Noten today for this Polimoda Duets. I had the honor and pleasure to host Dries' exhibition "Inspirations" at MoMu in 2015, and still up to today, it's been our most successful and most visited exhibition. We also host a large archive of Dries' work at MoMu from the very first collection up to today. I think, Dries, you need very little introduction as a designer, you've been around in the industry for more than three decades. I think you're one of the most respected names within the industry. Welcome. How are you?

Dries Van Noten: Hello, Kaat. Hello, everybody. I'm really good. Strange times, I think. But that's, I think, for everybody, but thinking about everything, what's happening in the world, in fact we can still be quite happy and everything goes quite well.

Kaat: The fashion museum is only 2 kilometers, I think, away from your headquarters in Antwerp. It's a bit strange we're almost neighbors that we cannot do this interview live. Like most of us, you and your team have been working remotely for most of the time for the past 10 months, and I wondered how this affected your work, your design work, your creative process?

Dries: It's, of course, a new reality. In the beginning of the crisis, when we went for the first time, in lockdown, March, April, May, you know honestly, it was quite panicking because you didn't know, nobody who knew in fact how we could work, what options we had. Now, of course, we Zoom and we do all those things. In that time, it was all new so it was also the experimenting to see what creativity can you still have when you can't touch fabrics, when you can't meet people, when you can't see with the wink of an eye what somebody means, and things like that.

Now, we are getting more used to it although that we see now also that it's working by Zoom and this thing, of course, has its limitations and so making patterns at home with the pattern makers, that's still possible. But doing fittings, all those things getting very complicated. The models are walking around always with face masks, you have to stay as much as possible, the 1.5-meter social distancing. You really start at a certain moment to say, "Okay, can you try for one minute to present an outfit maybe then without the face mask? We all take distance, just to have a quick walk up and down." It feels nearly guilty that you just asked somebody to take off for a short break.

It's a difficult time, but on the other hand, we also embrace the limitations. I think when you're really creative you see, this is not possible, that's not possible. When you embrace the limitations, if you make the best of it, you have a very positive energy in that way. This helps also. I think the collections we are working on now are challenging collections. They are interesting. We question ourselves everyday as we did in the past like, "Does it make sense?" Because, of course, a crisis also changes enormously how people look to fashion, to luxury, and all those things.

Kaat: Quite early on in this pandemic, you took the lead in an open letter to the industry. You got a lot of attention with this letter. In this letter, you were calling out for fundamental changes in the industry. We're about eight months later now. Do you feel there are changes, that the industry is changing, real change, systemic change? Or is it too early?

Dries: I think it's quite early. Of course, there are changes and I think the fact that people are already there to think about it and talk about it is really like a big change because before everybody in the fashion industry was on his own little island and there was very little communication between the different designers, fashion houses.

Also, kind of the big institutions like the Camera della Moda and Chambre Syndicale. You clearly feel there that is now we lack open discussion about a lot of things. It would be a pity that once the whole COVID situation is over, that you would just restart in a way that you were working before. Everybody felt right before the crisis that something had to change. The rhythm was too fast, too many collections, too much product, whatever works, new, new, new, every month again something else. Buyers and press flying around the world to see fashion shows from Japan to Brazil to everywhere. It was just getting far too much.

You feel now that a lot of people really want to change things. Of course, it's very difficult times for everybody. I think first now everybody wants to change things, sometimes change are also more costly and also implicate again some risks that you have to take. I think risk is now something maybe what certain people don't want to take because everybody, I think most of the fashion houses, especially the independent ones, are in rather fragile situations. There is definitely a change. You feel that people are talking more about sustainability. I think most people's expectations became smaller already.

You have, of course, the fact that there is no fashion shows anymore. All the creative solutions everybody tries to find to still make a nice presentation, to share the emotion of a collection without that you have an actual real model walking in front of you. It's very exciting times. Don't think it's going to be a revolution. It is going to be an evolution and it's going to take its time but I'm very optimistic in that way.

Kaat: About this notion of slowing down, you've also mentioned that you felt everything, we need to make things smaller again, less product. If I look at situation in Belgium, we lost most of our textile industry last century. When you started out as a student end of the '70s, the textile industry was in a big crisis and the Belgian government started a textile plan with large investment in the industry, which in the end didn't work out as we all know. Do you feel that the offshoring and the delocalization that we went through and we all thought for, I think, a very long time we could not bring this back. Is this maybe an option?

Do you believe in a notion like localism? Can we maybe have small manufacturing facilities back? Because that would be a big change. Is that something you believe in or is that just a naive idea?

Dries: I think bringing really the art, let's say, and the skills back to Belgium is going to be super complicated but I think now that was in the '80s when we're talking about it, we still had the facilities here in Belgium now. I think in the meantime, of course, we have Europe, the world became one big country. I think that we have to focus especially to keep the skills alive and thriving in places where they still are. I think we have to do efforts to have all the specialists who are there in Léon to make the most incredible velvets and silks and things like that, really we have to support them.

It costs a lot of money. One meter of fabric is sometimes €100, €150 sometimes one meter of fabric but when you explain what it is, you make clever garments, people are open for things like this but of course, while in the past, we counted that we were quite, how shall I put it, pretentious, I think in fashion that we said like, "Okay, we can make clothes. It can cost a lot of money and we don't have to explain really to people why they are so expensive."

First of all, we have to start now to explain. People want to know. We have to explain why designer clothes are more expensive than pieces from Zara and H&M, where the differences are. I think if we can share with them, to show look this is made in Léon on wooden looms from the 1920s, this is handmade in Italy, in Florence where you have still the factory which make the most beautiful tassel and those type of things. That is all information which you have to share and I think if everybody does a little bit of effort, we can keep that already in Italy, we can keep that in France.

There are still some good knitwear manufacturers left in Belgium. If we work with them in a very right way and we explain it, I think I clearly see the future for them. Claiming back things which we lost, that's going to be very difficult because then we have to go down to the education and all those things because then that way you need to realign the schools again. Maybe in the long-term, yes.

On the other hand, I think you have the whole local atmosphere, what you see also in foods and in so many different crafts and skills, so it's there, but I think you have to see it a little bit bigger than only Belgium, or only Italy. I think the European scale, that's really a good start. For me, the world is like one big country, and I know that embroidery now, we have two countries who still can do it. It's India, and it's China. I prefer to work in India because they still have something very personal what they add. Also, those people, even in those difficult times, I tried to support as much as I can.

My people can't go anymore to India already now for eight months, but still we make exciting products. We discovered also Zoom to India. It doesn't always function so well, but still it's okay. We do now another type of embroidery, which we can explain by Zoom, and a lot of types of garments, but they look very exciting.

Kaat: Interesting. You've been working for more than 30 years in the industry, so this is not the first crisis you encounter. I think you started your company second half of the '80s, at a time when you started your presentations in Paris, the beginning of the '90s, we were facing a huge economic recession. Then the beginning of the new millennium there was 9/11, which had a huge impact on fashion as an industry. 2008, we saw the financial crisis, but we also encountered important social movements like very recently, the Me Too movement, or Black Lives Matter.

How have these crises had an effect on your brand, in both a business way, but also in a creative way, and what makes this crisis different?

Dries: This crisis is completely different because it's so global. It's all over the world. When I think about the crisis before, in the '90s or something like that, the first rolling right or 2008, or 9/11, okay, then maybe there was a big crisis in America, but then Asia was tried, and Japan was still there, and things like that. Now it's really the first time it's completely global. Okay, sometimes things are doing better than other ones, but still it's all over the world.

That's quite different. Of course, the thing is Black Lives Matters and Me Too, it's something else for me than a financial crisis. It's more that of a creative response that you have to give. Now, of course, we are also forced to find more of a business response because on the COVID crisis, what happened now, we have to play it really smart. We have to work very close together with our distribution. We have to talk daily to the people who buy our collections to see how we can help, what we can do, how they can help us?

In fact, it's really, again, there we really clearly see that there is now a communication, where in the past, okay, we were vendors and they were buyers, so it was a very simple construction. Now, it's really working together. What can we do to support them. How can we communicate in this way? That's all things which we are trying to do now, to see what--

Of course, I expect especially in '21, that still quite a lot of problems are going to arise because quite a lot of the smaller stores, but also the big stores, have enough resources to survive long season.

Everybody in this year in spring thought, "Okay, it's going to be finished in autumn." It's not finished in autumn, and now I think everybody realizes also that spring is also going to be seriously damaged. Let's hope that business is going to get better again in autumn '21. You see there that it is a strange situation that we are in now, so we are going to lose clients, we're going to find things which are happening. It's going to create also new opportunities, so e-comm is doing quite well. Maybe that when the big stores stops in a certain city, that maybe it gives place for the smaller store, more local store.

Then you see also an evolution that's started really two or three years ago, that you have now in less expensive neighborhoods in cities, young people starting again a multi-label store. I mean you see it in long term. It started in the '80s with multi-label stores, then you have big department stores, then you have the mono-label stores, and all the multi-label stores nearly disappeared. Now, you have again, in every city, multi-label stores coming up. Young people find some local, especially local, small brands, they're having some bigger designers, maybe have some exclusive ranges of sportswear brands, so you see those mixtures popping up. You see again even in difficult times, there's always hope.

Kaat: Also, you yourself in this very complex situation where you have to re-invent yourself and your brand every day, you found the time to open a new store and I was very much intrigued by the notion of collaboration, that's at the core of that store, so you opened a store in LA and you described it as a laboratory, you not only show your own collections, you have a space where you can do exhibitions, you present the work of fellow designer, Ann Demeulemeester, her ceramics and lights designs, you also showed the work of a long time collaborator of you Christoph Hefti, his textile work, but you also collaborate with local LA-based artists.

Is it the crisis that brought this aspect of collaboration to a new level in your work?

Dries: The store in LA was really an adventure so when I opened in end of February, beginning of March, that opening ceremony was going to close, I talked immediately about that store in LA. I visited it only five years ago, I think that was the last time I was in LA, five years ago. I saw the space and I liked the dynamic of it. Of course, in the middle of the crisis, it was lockdown, everybody said like, "Okay, now the future is really for e-comm." I love e-commerce, I think it's very important, I think it has its place but I still believe in brick and mortar that is really clearly a future, but the crisis, the whole COVID situation made also clear that something has to happen.

Just open a store and say, "My clothes are the most beautiful, and you have to buy them." That's not enough anymore. You have to curate your collection, you have to curate your store, and you have a way to-- People can come there and they can learn and see something, and if there is the long hands, it is the explanation, my staff is very well trained in LA that they can explain the how and the what of the garments, but I wanted to have that also, yes, because it's a 8 square meters store, I really wanted to have the opportunity there to mix it in with music, with art, with all those different things which I like, and which, I think for me, gives the store also a reason of being.

We work together with young LA artists who paint directly on the wall. I didn't want to have kinds of paintings on a hook, I really wanted to have that's really kind of street art, painted directly on the wall. We worked together with the local galleries, we have people who make selections of music for us, vinyl records which we have also a special cover of where we have people like Devendra Banhart, Nile Rodgers who make every month a selection of their favorite records.

It's so many different things and you really feel that is an enthusiasm for that aspect of the store, so that people know that clothes are embedded in real world and that there is also collaboration and a space for-- Yes. Collaborations in all the widest way of thinking about collaboration, so not only, "Okay, I go to one of the big sportswear brands and I make the sneaker of the season," or something like that. No, for me, it's really like talking with an artist, see things. I don't always have to collaborate with them, for me, it's also really enough that people who I really respect who and just I give them the space and the possibility to show like the ceramics of Ann and or the carpets, and the beautiful textiles from Christoph Hefti.

Kaat: I'm very interested in this aspect of collaboration within your career. You started as a student collaborating with your fellow designers which ended up in the famous Antwerp Six collective which you actually never formally communicated yourself, you were baptized by press as the Antwerp Six but it was already, there was this notion of collaboration which was not, I think, stimulated by the school but it's really an initiative of you as young designers and students to collaborate.

You have been collaborating all over your career, if I think of your fashion shows, how rich of ideas and concepts in collaboration your shows are. If I think of a reason to collaboration with Christian Lacroix which was also a very special collaboration because it was not him adding something to your collection, it was the both of you, your both creative worlds coming together in one collection and I see your store in LA as the sort of next level of collaboration. You're actually merging a museum with a performance place, with a platform for young talent with a retail space. Is that kind of future for fashion retail for you? Is that new ways you want to explore, and does it come natural within your career?

Dries: It comes quite natural especially now, I think it's important that it's really when you look at the situation, where we are in now. If you want to excite the clients, the consumers, it's a very ugly word, the consumers, the people who buy the clothes, the clothes have to be great but you have to do more. For me, I've been always very open-minded in that direction. Even when the Antwerp Six, we didn't see each other as competitors. There was a healthy competition between us, but if we needed an advice we always could reach out to each other and that was no problem, there's always a very open collaboration in fact between us.

Later on, also with Etienne Russo, when I started to do the fashion shows, it was a creative ping-pong. I'm not a person who wants to do creative dictate, it's not me who says like, "Okay, that's the way that I see it and that's the way how you have to do it." I like to work together with the team, that's why also when I talk about Dries Van Noten, I always say we and I never say me. I see myself, I'm a creative person but who am I when I don't have my team around me and all the people which I work together with. It's more like a family, because I like also once I like to work together with a person, those people sometimes stay very long time with me.

The proof is Etienne Russo for the fashion shows, it's from the beginning, it's 30 years now that we do the whole career together of fashion shows and everything. It's collaboration, it's who are you, we have to be creative, not only in making our collections but to see what chance we can give to people. When I look to the work what I did together with Christian, Christian's collection in the '80s was really, very far and completely different than what I was doing in the '80s. Still, there was a mutual respect for each other, when I was reaching out to Christian immediately he said like, "Yes, why not, let's do that."

Talking about creative ping-pong there it was really creative ping-pong and that was really very nice because he learned me so much, but I learned him also quite a lot of things. Sometimes the opulence can be really beautiful, the straightforwardness of my vision also, he appreciates now, he sees also the day version, the casual version, the whole, all those things. That was a very exciting time and the store in LA, now for me is the next step because there again, we work together with people, we give them the opportunity. We are talking now, of course, with COVID quite a lot of the initial ideas are now have to wait until COVID crisis is over. Still, you're going to see there, there's going to be a lot of fun.

When I think about a collection, what we're going to present now next summer which is based on artwork from Len Lye, an artist from New Zealand from the 1930s and '40s. We work now together with the museum in New Zealand to do presentations in LA, in Shanghai but also in other stores, where we're going to present the films so that people start to know better who Len Lye is.

In that way, I hope that young people maybe who don't have the budget to buy really the pieces from the collection, will come to the store just to see those beautiful films and maybe to go home with a book, which is also a nice idea that you can share things like this.

Kaat: I'm very intrigued that you're almost picking up the role of a museum or a gallery and as a museum director and curator, I'm very interested by the, how you actually curate. You say you're also now collaborating with a museum in New Zealand, that you're showcasing films. Also in your store, you have two archive rooms where you show your older work, work you didn't want to put on sale, that you thought was too precious. In Asia, you also launched a series of archive bags that were made from fabrics from your archive. Do you like the curational aspect?

Dries: I don't see the archives room as not only, it's not only about curation, but the initial idea in LA was also to make it more like a circular system. So that people who buy clothes and they don't want to keep them anymore that they could bring them back, that we have that kind of vintage store. Of course, COVID also killed the idea because I don't think people are going to be really interested in wearing our clothes which somebody else has been wearing. From there came the idea that we have a very big stock, so I don't touch my archive much for looks, but we have a big stock of pieces going back already from the '90s and 2000, things which I always said like, "Oh, these I don't want to put on sale." I think they are too beautiful, too precious, that their embroidery is too well done, so we keep them.

Now we put those things there in the store. People really like the idea that a beautiful garment is just a beautiful garment and it's not because it was made three years ago, or five years ago, that it's less beautiful. People start to see that the whole system of the seasonality, maybe that's a little bit outdated. I think, on the long term, to me fashion, is that we would make nice clothes and that every time again, you add things to your wardrobe, and that things don't go out of fashion anymore. I think that the concept of fashion may be a little bit outdated, a little bit old.

Kaat: Yes, absolutely. I think that the industry has been devaluating its own products for a very long time. I think it's very right to try to focus on the value of creation. I want to come back to this notion of collaboration because I can imagine that the creative process of collaborating with other creatives is not always easy. If I look at fashion education, I think, we still train our fashion students to become individual designers. How important do you see the notion of collaboration within fashion education or just creativity?

Dries: I think, on one hand, fashion designers have to be individual, you have to have your own vision. I think, when you look to most fashion houses, it's teamwork, you have everywhere, designers, young assistants, you have all those people. If you want it or not, you work together with other people. I think in my beginning years, of course, I wanted to show my own idea.

Now, my vision, I think, is strongly enough developed that I really easily can work with somebody else. We can see the value which it adds also because I make already so many collections, for me to make good collections I have to stay excited. Working together with somebody else does exactly that. When you dive in the work of a still existing, and not existing collection or design, or if you work together with an artist living or not living anymore, it really adds something, it challenges you. You have to try to start to think a little bit like he thinks, without copying him.

I think it's important their collaboration, of course, can be really beautiful when you don't try to copy them, the way of thinking of the other person or the artist. Maybe one of the best examples I can give to you about that is when I made the collection inspired on the work of Francis Bacon. The starting point of the collection was not like, "Let's make a collection inspired from Francis Bacon, let's make a collection which is inspired from the emotion, what you feel when you see the exhibition of Francis Bacon." It was a big exhibition in London, in 2007, 2008, which I saw, and for me when I came out of that exhibition I was so flabbergasted, it was so strong, that work.

That said, for me, the collection has to look like that emotion. It's not that, "Okay, what color does he use, and how does a certain thing painted? The emotion is there and that's what we used for the start-up point. In the same way that you have the joy and the abundance from Christian Lacroix's work, which we translated in my way, then in the collection. It's always to find the right balance.

Kaat: You mentioned emotion. I think that emotion is really at the core of your work. If you go to your fashion shows, there were numerous fashion shows where I saw people in tears because they were so moved by your work. Because of the crisis, a fashion show, a physical presentation is not possible anymore, so you have to make the shift to digital presentations. How hard was that for you and do you feel that genuine emotion is possible within a digital presentation?

Dries: It was a challenge, it was not very easy especially because we didn't know how we could work where we could get models from, who could be the photographer and things like that. I was very happy when I reached out to Viviane Sassen, the Dutch photographer, an artist, that she said yes because of course, that was really quite easy for us because it was just like 50 kilometers from us, we went to the seaside to make the shoot. Then we went to a studio nearby Amsterdam, where we did on the second day of the shoot with the projections on it.

It was a challenge, it was also the first time that I combined men's and women's wear in the whole presentation. Normally I have men's fashion and women's fashion show. Now that is budget-wise, and everything in time-wise, it was not really possible. We make one big explanation. All those images we sent out to present buyers and the reactions were really very positive because what people liked is that when we communicate it in that way, it was like little clips of models dancing, we have the photoshoot of 50 pictures, there was a small video of me explaining the full collection.

And the video was more than that, of course, as it was video, I could really concentrate on what I was saying. It was a clear explanation of the collection because after a fashion show backstage, you're soemotional, there's so much emotion in there that it's such a difficult time. Then you have to say in five minutes to 10 journalists in fact, what the collection was about. Now I really have the luxury that I could explain it very clearly what our collection was about. There was like a whole section of the films of Len Lye, it was explanation who Len Lye was, so it was not only like some images, it was like the full explanation and people loved it.

They loved it and said like, "In fact, this is much more interesting than a fashion show, we learned something about an artist which we don't know." We can look at the clothes, we can come back to that. When we want to see it different eyes, the day after they open it again, they looked again to it. It's a completely different way of looking to something. There again, for me, it was really like a lesson that fashion is communication but maybe a fashion show is nothing left as communication. Now, for the future, once you can do fashion shows, again, maybe there's going to be a different type of fashion show, maybe it can become smaller again, maybe there has to be more explanation of who we are, what we do, why we do and all those things because people are genuinely really interested in that.

Kaat: I've always found it a pity if you go to your fashion shows, it's 15, maximum 20 minutes. If you then afterwards read the review, it's about the clothes, sometimes it's about the general setting or idea but there's so much information and so many ideas that are never communicated within reviews. If I just think of the music and the soundscapes of your shows who you've collaborated with, all the energy and time and budget that went into this 15 minutes of music, and nobody writes about it. I've always thought it was just material for a specific exhibition.

Some of your shows are really like a Gesamtkunstwerk. Is it an idea that if you ever again, do fashion shows that you do this storytelling about your shows and all the collaborations and ideas that went into it?

Dries: That's little bit the direction we are starting to think, also that of course, with the rhythm of four fashion shows a year, it's a loss. That's also the first thing what we learned now is that to explain a collection to the press that there are other ways than doing purely fashion shows. That's going to be very interesting maybe that we're going to reduce the quantity of fashion shows from four to two a year and then, of course, maybe people also will spend more time on it because now a fashion show of 10 minutes, 15 minutes and people already have to run to the next one.

Maybe when everybody does just a few less fashion shows that after the fashion show itself that you can take the time to talk with the designers, to explain all the things. There are so many opportunities which we never really there to think about before the crisis started and now we are forced to think and it's also an eye opener to see how many possibilities there are. When I talked with the press, when I presented the collection, everybody said like, "Oh, we thought we were going to really to miss the fashion shows and we thought that with the few shows which were there in Milan and a few in Paris, it was going to be feel edgy, people from Paris can see that show and we can't be there."

In fact, those shows for most of the journalists was a little bit awkward, a little bit misplaced, and not really appropriate to be able to do now in these times, a fashion show. They really, they embraced enormously all those presentations and also, they have the possibility to talk directly to designers. I think especially there for young designers, beginning designers, there is a huge opportunity because of course, as a young designer, how can you challenge when you have the Diors or the Saint Laurents with their mega spectacles and things like this.

I think now there is really going to be the possibility that you can, that journalists bring this confidence, that direct contact with people that something small can be even much more enriching as a person, as a journalist, that as a fashion lover that you learn so much more when you don't go only to the big fashion shows.

Kaat: Yes, absolutely.

Dries: For the young people there is really now an opportunity to grab.

Kaat: I agree because I think that the past few years, I think a lot of people were complaining within the industry, they were tired and they had to run from one show to another. I think it was always more and more difficult to surprise people or to really inspire people. I agree, I think that there a lot of new opportunities and that it will also I think make designers creative in a different way. I think that's very exciting. A question I wanted to ask you also is, when are you successful as a fashion designer? What means success for you in fashion or success as a designer?

Dries: I think success is the moment you feel as a creative person that you managed to put something out there and that people love it. That can be somebody who at home makes himself some clothes and that's it, and put them on internet and sells them and tried to sell them in that way. Even the commercial aspect is not too important. I think you can be successful when you participate in a contest or that when you see that people react on it. I think that for me is that the sign that you are a successful designer. For me, it has nothing to do with turnover, business figures, and these type of things.

I think the reality now is going to be that we have the most exciting young talents, it's not going to follow the traditional system of what we were doing, and it's not going to be like a big fashion business. I think now it's going to be much more interesting to follow all those young people, who work maybe somewhere in the countryside, somewhere maybe in a village that nobody heard of in Italy and makes with the local products some handcrafted things. Super exciting and very, very important for the future, I think.

Kaat: You believe there's still a future for independent designers because you, yourself, most of your career you've been working as an independent designer. It's only very recently that you welcomed an investor in your brand, Puig. Do you feel there's still a future independent designers?

Dries: I think there is definitely a future for independent designers, absolutely. I hope so. The reason why I started to work together with Puig is that unfortunately I'm not getting younger and I have my responsibility towards my team. My team with quite a lot of people here in the company who work already for 20 or 25 years in the company and I simply didn't want to be forced at a certain month, in a few years' time, to say like, "Sorry people, I've had it. I close. Bye-bye, thank you for everything what you did."

In that way, for me, I had to first think like, "Is there enough to tell in the House of Dries Van Noten withoutthat I have to tell it myself. Is there another designer who can come in and do with the key ideas of the house, what we're standing for, with prints and fabrics and colors and embroideries, and all those things? Are there still new visions which can be done?" And I said, "I felt like assured that it can be done." That's why we approached somebody and said like, "Okay, definitely once I stop this, is there a future for the House of Dries Van Noten?"

Kaat: I've always find it really weird, I think fashion is the only art discipline where the name of the creative lives on or is sold to someone else and someone else designs or creates in the name of the original designer. If you think of it, it's quite weird, and I've sometimes wondered whether it's always relevant to do that. Does it scare you?

Dries: It scares me, but I think that's also why we selected to work better with a house like Puig, who has a lot of respect for the vision which I put together here in my house. Of course, for some brands it's simply the name what they continue and whatever design that they put there, it becomes something else. I clearly hope, I think there are enough examples where you clearly see that when a strong designer comes in with maybe different vision but respect the process of his own house.

You see what's happening with Galliano and Margiela. I think it's fantastic how they deal with it is really super interesting. I think that also he blends really his vision perfectly with the vision of Margiela. I hope that in my case also that we can find somebody who does it in the same way and that they're going to be really surprised to see a new take on Dries Van Noten.

Kaat: Okay. Maybe last question, because we're doing this talking in the scope of a fashion school, Polimoda. What advice would you give the students of today who are about to enter the fashion industry tomorrow? Especially in these very insecure times, what advice would you give them?

Dries: Well there's a lot of advice which I would like to give to students. I think especially try to enjoy yourself. I think that's the most important thing. Don't be over-ambitious. I think you have to be super ambitious, but try not to be over-ambitious because fashion is really super hard. It's a lot of work you have to do. You have to work a lot, you have to continue your life, but when once you start with your own company or your own collections and things like that, you lose so much and it's super-- I'm always sad to see that some young people come from a fashion school, dream immediately to become the next Balenciaga or the next Dries Van Noten or whoeer.

I say, "Look. Oh please go slow." When I see to our career, we came out of fashion school in '81, and it took me five years before I started my own brand and we started really very, very small. We didn't start with fashion shows and the whole thing. Especially with times we have now in front of us, there are so many opportunities as the way which we've been talking about. There are challenges, but there are also a lot of opportunities, so grab them.

Kaat: Yes, taking also time to learn and to make mistakes also. I think that is also very [crosstalk]

Dries: Or go too fast, because when you're over-ambitious you go too fast and then you burn yourself, and that's a pity. In my career I've seen it happening already with some young people around me, and I think it's a pity.

Kaat: Dries, thank you so much for this very lovely conversation. I wish you a lot of success in these challenging times, and I hope that we can meet in the near future live. Thank you.

Dries: Okay. Thank you, Kaat. Bye bye.

Kaat: Bye.