for dries, it's more than music, it's magic!

One of fashion’s greatest showmen, Dries Van Noten’s catwalk soundtracks have provided a romantic backdrop for his collections for more than two decades. Photographed backstage at his spring/summer 15 show, these psychedelic images channel the free...

by Anders Christian Madsen
10 March 2015, 1:52pm

When Dries Van Noten was a teenager, he discovered David Bowie. It was the 70s and British avant-garde rock was covering Europe in a thick coat of glitter and hair dye, even at the Jesuit school in Antwerp where the retailer's son, who would eventually become the dream spinner of fashion, was cutting his prodigal teeth. Bowie became one of his heroes, and when Dries was 19, in 1977, the singer wrote the anthem to back it up: Heroes. Nearly four decades later, in 2011, Dries - now one of the world's most influential designers - decided to base his autumn/winter collections on his lifelong hero. And he needed the anthem to go with it. Fast-forward through lengthy permission processes, the master tape was finally located, sitting in an undisclosed storage site untouched since the 70s. And like a circle of eminent artistry come full, the fan became responsible for restoring his hero's record, one of the most significant of the 20th century.

"Bowie," Dries pauses, "that was more complicated," his loud understatement present as ever. Since putting on his first runway show in 1992, the Belgian designer has earned his place as one of fashion's greatest showmen, no challenge being too big in his strive for dramatic excellence. And that goes for his soundtracks, too. For his spring/summer 07 men's show, he asked Jah Wobble to use his track, How Much Are They? "He was an early 80s underground musician, 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." Pragmatics would ask themselves why they couldn't simply have played the original radio edit, but for Dries such lethargy would be unthinkable.

"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 for the last five minutes. It's important that we have the parts and can make a new extended version of it, and that it still sounds good, because I think the least you can do when you use an iconic song is to not mess it up by cutting it up and repeating some parts to make it long enough, no," he says. "I think you make a new composition." It is this respect for his inspirations and willingness to make them his own, which runs through the veins of the designer's entire universe. His grittily opulent 60,000 sq ft building on the Godefriduskaai in Antwerp is abundant with majestic treasures from all over the world, and around the six floors of the house his disciples are currently hard at work on the second instalment of his aptly titled exhibition, Inspirations, which opens in Antwerp this February.

Musical elements take up a significant part of the exhibition, but Dries insists he's simply an observer. "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," he smiles. "Not me, because I'd already given up from the first moment!" Instead, his childhood instilled in him music's closest relative in the shape of dance. "I was the youngest at home so I was the one my sisters always used to practise with. I learned the classics from them: the cha-cha-cha, the waltz, all these things." Dries' spring/summer 15 men's collection, which revisited his graduate collection from 1981, paid homage to his dance idol Rudolf Nureyev, and was scored with music from the contemporary Belgian dance company, Rosas, headed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker for whom Dries has designed costumes. Since his time at the Antwerp Academy, he has been infatuated with the finer things in performance (he lists La Bohème and seeing the late Pina Bausch as major moments of his life), but the Dries Van Noten world of devotions isn't strictly highbrow.

Previous show soundtracks count Britney Spears' Toxic, Madonna's version of American Pie, and Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot. "It's all about hearing a song. It's not that I'm so calculated that I say, 'Oh, it would be good to do this for my image; to associate myself with something new.' It can be as much of a cliché as something classic. I think one of the most successful soundtracks we did was a soundtrack of slows only. The most cliché, teary slows like I'm not in Love by 10cc," he recalls. "And the more dramatic the show became the more melodramatic the slows became. So in the finale everybody was crying." It's the kind of emotional showstopper Dries is infamous for, something that's become a form of rebellion on his part. "It's not really to make them cry, but emotion is nice. I'm not afraid of clichés. At the moment everything in fashion 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, the lights, the whole thing!' Because I want to create emotion."

Dries admits, however, that using hit songs for shows can be a hazard. "You have hits, which people get bored with, and you have more instant classics, which you can play whenever you want." For the reopening of his Antwerp store some 12 years ago, he only played Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out of My Head all night. "In all different remixes," he says. "It was Michel Gaubert [also featured in this issue]'s idea. Everybody was completely drunk and I think for the next week, Antwerp was still singing la-la-la. So, you see, you can make something conceptual even of Kylie Minogue." Perhaps it's the wrong time to ask him what he'd like them to play when his coffin gets carried out of the cathedral, but here it goes. "It's difficult to say Kylie Minogue… but maybe, why not?" Dries quips. "Have fun and enjoy!"


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Jason Evans
Models Yana Van Ginnelken at Ulla. Hanne Gaby and Julia Hafstrom at IMG. Fei Fei Sun at Select.
Models wear all clothing Dries Van Noten. 

Dries Van Noten
Jason Evans
fashion interviews
anders christian madsen
fashion stories
spring/summer 15
fashion intervies