27-Jun, 18:58

11:14, February 28 205 0

2017-02-28 11:14:04
Dries Van Noten Reaches 100

Lately it often seems as if fashion will celebrate any anniversary that qualifies for the name. Once it was only the big ones — 25, 50 — that merited an event. Now it seems every five-year cycle equals a milestone.

Maybe it’s because designer tenures have gotten so short; maybe it’s because of the constant need to feed the Instagram maw. But whatever the reason, it makes the truly big numbers stand out, since they are so rarely reached.

Case in point: Dries Van Noten’s 100th show, scheduled March 1. Still, as might be expected from a designer who has long piloted his own course through the fashion system, he’s not marking the moment quite as one may expect. A few days before the show, he revealed the reason — and what he’s doing instead. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Why celebrate a 100th show instead of, for example, a 30th year in business?

For me, a show is an event — something we work toward, that focuses an idea. It’s why I still believe in shows. They are not the cherry on the cake, they are the cake. Also, I find that what are supposed to be big years don’t always feel that way, and vice versa.

Thirty-six marked a really big change for me, for example — not 35, as you might think. I feel like this show might be one of those moments. It forces you to think about the past and the future, and what the future might be.

I want to move on — not only change the clothes I make, but also some of my focus. I didn’t want to be nostalgic. I wanted to ask: What can we do to take it forward? I’m nervous about it. You’d think after 100 shows you’d be used to this, but it’s not true for me. It always feels like the first show.

Do you remember your first show?

It was quite innocent. It was a men’s show, so the expectations were a little less high. I started the company in 1986, but we didn’t have the money to do a show until ’92.

It was in the basement of the St. James and Albany hotel [in Paris], and we wanted it to be like a small theater with a moving background, so the moon went up and down, for example. We brought in all this real grass to be the catwalk, but when we put it down, it just looked brown. So then we had to spray paint it apple green. We were painting the real grass a fake color to make it look more real.

Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.

What have you learned?

Not enough. But I think that’s good. You can try to understand how the system works, and what the expectations of people are so you surprise them, but then you realize: There is no system. I look back on shows now that I thought were good, and I don’t like them so much any more. Or criticism I didn’t understand or agree with, now makes sense.

For me, it’s important to step out of my comfort zone, keep the tension. It keeps it interesting. But if I was going to say something to my old self, it would be, “Enjoy the moment.” I was not so good at that.

How have shows changed over the years?

It got so much more serious. When I started, all the models were smiling. That stopped about halfway through the ’90s. Accessories became more important. The front row became a big thing. So did celebrity. Then the models became big stars, which they are again because of Instagram. Shows became huge all over the world. And everything got much more expensive.

But it’s also true that change is always good. The actual period of change can be wobbly and scary, but it has to happen. We are in a period of fashion overdose right now. There’s too much pressure.

Is that why you are not having a party?

I feel like what we all want now is something very personal and human: a real show, in a real room, in front of real people, who experience it together.

What we did for the 50th show — the 135-meter table that was the runway, a dinner with 250 waiters for 500 guests — we couldn’t do today. Venues are much more strictly regulated, there are many more rules.

It was a miracle it all worked so well at the time. The waiters were actually students, and it was only by the grace of God that not one plate was dropped. I still can’t believe it. It was also very financially decadent.

In the end, when you do a big event, it is the customer who pays. I prefer to keep my prices more moderate, and not do that.

So what are you going to do?

We went back to the archive and started thinking about what prints were worth taking forward — prints from the second show, the sixth, the eighth, the 10th. But then we made them new by overlaying a new graphic on top. So it’s our past, but rethought for the future.

I also wanted to share this moment with people who had walked for me before, so we invited models from the first women’s show, all the way up to girls we discovered last season, so there are women in the show of all different ages and different colors from different parts of the world. We started contacting them back in October. They all said yes.

It’s very interesting for me as a designer, because now I am doing fittings on many grown-up women, not just 16-year-olds. I’m really looking forward to seeing all these people again, and also having some of them see each other, because they may not actually have been together for a long time now. I’m happy about that.