​the music sounds better with dries

Celebrate Dries Van Noten’s birthday with us, as we look back on the music that’s defined his career so far.

by Anders Christian Madsen
12 May 2015, 12:45pm

One of fashion's greatest showmen, Dries Van Noten has been challenging the boundaries of show soundtracks for more than two decades. We visited the maestro in Antwerp for a talk about all things music. This extended Q&A is from the interview first published in i-D's The Music Issue for Pre-Spring 2015.

How do you know if a soundtrack is right?
Often what I say is, "I don't want this, I don't want this, I don't want that. I don't want pop, I don't want rock. It has to be this. There should be a mood. It has to be fun. It has to be emotional. I say, "That's what you have to look for." Sometimes it also simply happens that I'm driving home, I listen to something on the radio, and I go, "That's it."

What do you do once you get hold of the masters?
We take the masters and rework them to make longer versions in a more interesting way. When you go for an iconic song, what I don't want for a show that lasts between eight and ten minutes is to have one song for the first five minutes and another song for the last five minutes.. No, I think you make a new composition. Quite often when you work on an important song, the artist wants to have input in it.

Which soundtracks have been the most challenging?
The funniest one was a show we did on Jah Wobble. He was an early 80s underground music, kind of reggae type thing. We asked him if we could have the parts of his song and he said, "I can't find them… but I'll send them to you." So we received all the samples, but they weren't in fact the samples. He'd just re-recorded the whole thing. For him it was easier than trying to find the originals.

What about the Bowie collections [for fall/winter 11]?
Bowie, that was more complicated. Too Many DJs did the versions of those Bowie songs. Sometimes we work on a structure internally.

Does Bowie know you used his tracks?
Yes, yes, yes. I didn't speak to him. I met his wife several times and every time she says, "Oh, we have to arrange a meeting so he can meet you. Next time!" So now we've said next time I'm in New York we're going to meet.

What was the most complicated soundtrack?
The most complicated to find was The Police's Every Breath You Take. They'd changed recorded companies three times and the master had stayed at EMI, I think. But because they were in a fight, EMI was not really putting a lot of effort into finding them.

What about rights issues?
In the case of Bowie the rights were so complicated. We could play the track at the fashion show and that was it. There are so many possibilities now with distribution that I understand if the managers say, "If the artist wants you to use it for the fashion show it's okay, but it stops there."

I can't imagine what it must be like having to replace your original soundtrack for online.
Yes, after all that effort… Stores quite often do montages of fashion shows of the collections they sell, and I once received a montage from someone - I won't say the name - who did about twelve fashion shows, and the soundtrack was the most cheap, disco, horrible—everything! It was like, "What is this?!" And what they do then is slow it down so the models are walking to the music, which gives it a little bit of a 'dynamic feel'. I was like, "I hope people don't think this was the actual music of the show!"

Do you play an instrument?
No. I would love to play the piano, but I can't. I was forced to go to music school for four years, but then my mother gave up. Not me, because I'd already given up from the first moment.

If you were a composer, what kind of music would you make?
I think in the same way that my collections also can go in a lot of directions, it's hard to say if it would be classic or contemporary or what not. I think it would be something, which - no jazz - is kind of emotional. Not just something cold and electronic, no. It would include real instruments. Or a human voice.

You're not a big jazz fan, are you?
It's not my thing. But I always said, maybe I need a teacher to tell me how to appreciate jazz. Maybe it's like French cheese and olives: something I just have to learn to appreciate. If only you have to someone to give you the right tracks and tell you where to go next. In everything, I try to find kind of a system and a logic in things, and the moment something is completely unstructured it gives me an uncomfortable feeling.

It's all over the place.
You could say it's pure emotion in music. So I'd think it's maybe something for me… but still.

How much do seek to provoke emotion through your soundtracks?
It's not really to make them cry, but emotion is nice. I'm not afraid of clichés, I'm not afraid. I think at the moment in fashion everything has to be cool. You can't show an emotion. So I say, now you're gonna get it really full-on, with the music, with the lights, with the whole thing, because I want to create emotion.

Does Dries Van Noten dance?
Yes. I waltz. I think it's part of my education. I never went to dance school, but I was the youngest at home so I was the one my sisters always used to practice with. I learned the classics from them: the cha cha cha, the waltz, all these things.

When were you most rebellious through music?
Rebellious was really 1972 and 73 when you had glam rock, early 70s type of music. Slade, Sweet, Gary Glitter, all those horrible, horrible things, which now I'm very surprised to hear contemporary versions of.

What's the most amazing musical moment of your life?
One of the first operas I saw was the most beautiful version of La Bohème. Talking about real emotions, there you are, full on. It goes, for me, from opera to a live performance of Divine singing Shoot Your Shot in 1982 or something like that. Then you know how far I go with my taste level.

Who would you like to design stage costumes for?
I would prefer someone who has nearly no history. Of course it would be fantastic to do, like, Bryan Ferry or David Bowie, but at the end of the day they made their style so then I think you have to respect the icon. I think it would be nice to do someone with no history and try to create a new icon. That would be the challenge and the fun part.

What are your guilty pleasures, musically?
Listening to the radio, hearing things, putting the volume up. 'This is actually really good.' Like… Michael Jackson.

I wouldn't call MJ a guilty pleasure!

You must have some deep, dark music secrets, though?
We gave a party for the reopening of our store in 2002 or 03, I think, and we played only one song for the whole party. And it was a crazy party. It was Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out of My Head in all different versions and remixes. Everybody was completely drunk and I think for the next week, Antwerp was still singing "la-la-la"! It was Michel Gaubert's idea. He wanted to do something conceptual. So, you see, there you have your guilty pleasure but you can make something conceptual, even of Kylie Minogue.

In your opinion, what's the most sublime meeting of fashion and music ever?
The 60s, the whole mood, the whole way of living, the whole of dressing, the way of music was one thing. With punk you have exactly the same. With new wave, the big shoulders and the dramatic music. Or ABBA: ridiculous music with ridiculous outfits. It often goes so well together. Dark music, dark clothes. Look at MGMT: there you have a whole soundtrack of a way of dressing and living.

What do you want them to play when your coffin is carried out of the cathedral?
It's difficult to say Kylie Minogue, but maybe, why not? Have fun and enjoy.


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Martin Zähringer

Dries Van Noten
The Music Issue
fashion interviews