After enjoying the recent documentary movies about Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior (Dior and I), I had high hopes for Dries – a new documentary about Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten.
The documentary covers Dries’ career over the last 25 years. We discover his background and history through the collections, get to understand his personality and personal life, as well as his creative process. And mostly, we get to understand what a talented fashion designer Dries Van Noten really is.
Dries’ parents had a tailoring business, so from an early age Dries was around clothes and fabrics. Rather than following his parents though, he decided that he preferred designing clothes, and took a fashion design course in Antwerp. This early influence encouraged an appreciation for ‘craft’ and the quality of fabrics, which he carries through into his collections today. It also makes him bristle at little at the use of the word ‘fashion’. Fashion sounds too ephemeral, something that is for a 6 month season, whereas his intention is to design something more classic and long-lasting.
While craft and quality provide solid foundations for his work, it is his bold use of clashing patterns, textures and colours that is really Dries’ leitmotif. We see this from the spectacular opening shots of the movie, taken from one of the recent collection shows in Paris. Models parade on a colourful textured carpet, wearing bold stripes in bright colours set on gorgeous fabrics. Fabulous.
Like the best interior designers, Dries Van Noten has an eye for putting together patterns, colours and textures that really shouldn’t work together, and yet when looked at as a whole they work incredibly well. Two very different check patterns in completely clashing colours, combined with some animal print. And maybe let’s add a bit of embroidery on top. It’s all wrong, and yet it works so well. Dries also uses his talent with colours and textures to excellent effect in the interior design of his home. The colours of the room are concentrated in the colours of flower arrangements using flowers from the extensive gardens – the flower arrangement colours become the essence of the colours in the room.
The creative process
The creative process that produces such wonderful effects starts with the sourcing and commissioning of fabrics. When the fabrics are delivered they are reviewed and then matched together using paper and then human ‘dolls’. We see a male model dressed in a loud check jacket having clashing fabrics pinned onto him in various combinations until ‘voila’ something works. The working combination is photographed, and forms one of the options that are then filtered and filtered again. It’s a sort of mix and match doll-dressing exercise using human models.
One surprise for me was how quietly spoken and conservative Dries Van Noten is in person. Given the bold designs I’d expected more of a flamboyant Gianni Versace character, but Dries dresses like he’s just raided the Country Road sale. Which is a little disappointing, to be honest. Dries has also been in a relationship for nearly 30 years. While this isn’t disappointing, it does mean that the movie lacks a little in ‘story’ when compared to the Yves Saint Laurent movie, for example. The movie becomes the story of an amazing designer, completely obsessed with his work and whose life is crystallised in the various collections and shows he’s produced. At one point he’s asked about holidays. Yes, he’d love to take a holiday, all fashion designers dream of this, he says. But the fashion treadmill means that he has obligations to always produce his collections according to the agreed timetable. And now that he also has textile operations in India, he also has obligations to include beading in all of his collection in order to keep them in work.
My verdict: 9/10 very watchable