The Collective Cry of the Fashion Bros: No Dries! Don’t Go!

As a trillion-dollar global industry, fashion is hardly the magic factory sometimes depicted in the press. Yet it does produce wizards. One such is the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, whose announcement this week that he would be hanging up his smock and retiring after 40 years at his namesake label occasioned an outpouring of reminiscences, particularly from fashion pros like the men’s wear experts interviewed below.

Michel Gaubert, sound director: “I did all the Dries shows from 1999 to 2005, and what I admired is that his was a very strong voice of independence. He wasn’t owned by a big financial group, which meant that, like Rei Kawakubo or Rick Owens, he never had to have the hit bag or a hit T-shirt. His communication was not through advertising but his fashion shows. They were his only messaging, which is why they were so well considered and refined.”

Nick Sullivan, creative director, Esquire: “One show in Paris was held in this glass-covered 19th-century passage filled with Indian shops. It was done along the arcade, and guests were crammed into chairs set on either side, with the locals going on about their shopping. At the end, Dries got people to throw rose petals out the windows of the upper floors. It was one of those moments you don’t forget.”

Gaubert: “The shows made you wonder what happened to you after you saw them. They never left you with no feelings. Dries was very, very meticulous — it was always about these worlds he’d create. One of the first I worked on was in a greenhouse in the Bois de Boulogne. The day before, they discovered that the greenhouse door was not the green he wanted. They couldn’t find the exact paint in Paris, so he sent to Belgium for it.”

Justin Berkowitz, fashion director, Bloomingdale’s: “The thing about Dries is the way worlds are brought together and the elements styled so interestingly. His silhouettes are not necessarily the most outrageous. Yet whatever he does speaks to a broad range of references, this mind that interests you and a taste that intrigues. He might choose a color from a Francis Bacon painting, or a pattern from a Vasarely print.

Josh Patner, fashion consultant: “Dries’s clothes are emotional but never mawkish, sentimental but not nostalgic, embellished without being garish, tailored without a hard, dark edge. He uses color like an interior designer, creating environments of the mind as much as a wardrobe.”

Sullivan: “The hallmark is this solid base of tailoring — he probably gets that from his family’s history in tailoring — over which he layers all these references to fashion, design, art, travel. He uses a lot of Indian crafts, but it’s never “I’m going to do an India collection.” It’s more subtle. He is not out to transform people so much as to create clothes that make you feel more interesting than you probably are.”

Josh Peskowitz, designer, Feit footwear: “Fashion is not the same as technology or resource extraction. Brands grow too fast, with the expectation that they’ll keep scaling up. But our business is built on intangibles. The true mystique is being able to build a world people want to inhabit. Dries did that for a really long time.”

Matthew Schneier, restaurant critic New York magazine (and former fashion reporter for The New York Times): “When, in my salad days, I was trying to figure out what my style was while pretending I’d always known, I found Dries made the clothes I actually wanted. His was also the show you wanted to attend, the store in Paris that was everyone’s first stop the minute they dropped their bags.”

Bruce Pask, senior editorial director, Neiman Marcus: “You’d jump in a taxi and say ‘Quai Malaquais, stat!’ The store is this comprehensive vision of a retail experience, with lacquer walls and velvet sofas and real art. It reflects his vision of what men’s wear can be — personal and experimental, with off colors and clashing patterns, but grounded in basics. Khakis with a trench coat belt that wraps around the waist, an unconstructed cotton jacket. Much as you may love the fantasy of it, you can interpret his designs in practical ways.”

Schneier: “Now all the luxury brands have obligatory art treasures to show off in their stores. Dries quietly hung a van Dyck portrait in his.”

Pask: “He understands emotion and storytelling in fashion, and over the years he has created this narrative arc from memorable moments. No one who was there will ever forget his men’s wear show of 2016, when he showed on the raked stage of the Palais Garnier opera house.”

Berkowitz: “Guests filed in through the backstage area and sat in the wings onstage, facing out toward the house. The curtain was open on this beautiful gilded auditorium. You waited in silence, and then suddenly the models walked across the proscenium through your line of vision — magical.”

Patner: “Probably the only shows that ever brought me to tears were Yohji Yamamoto and Dries.”

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