Dir.: Reiner Holzemer; Documentary with Dries Van Noten; Belgium/Germany 2017, 90 min.
Reiner Holzemer is best known for his work as a cinematographer and here turns his camera on Belgian’s most celebrated fashion designer proving without a doubt, that Dries Van Noten is really a cerebral artist, as attested by fashion icon Iris Apple, one of many insiders who sing his praises.
Holzemer follows the designer for a whole year documenting the precise steps he takes to conceive his collections known for their rich fabrics, embroidery and prints exclusive to his designs. Van Noten (*1958), one of the group called ‘The Antwerp Six’, faced a problem at the outset of his career: “It was strange, that fashion should come from Belgium, the most unfashionable country possible. We wanted to change our names to something more French or Italian”, he remembers, but is glad in hindsight that he stuck with his Belgian identity. His parents both had fashion shops, but Van Noten thought it would be more interesting, to create instead of selling. After over thirty years in the business, entailing four Fashion Shows a year, Van Noten is still the enthusiast. The devil, as always, lies in the detail: “It is difficult to shock. What is important, how you do it.” He believes in neutral garments, so that the women who wear them “can adjust to them”, and was one of the first to use photo images (like Marilyn Monroe) for his creations. But he is also open to influences from Baroque, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in his styling. His colourful and outrageous ‘Bollywood’ collection was a standout success, whilst the rest of his competitors choose modest outfits, with grey and skin colours predominating. Madonna, at the height of her popularity, also endorsed his brand offering world fame.
Patrick Vangheluwe is Dries’ partner in life and business for the last 25 years. We watch them in the huge grounds of their villa outside Antwerp, where they pick flowers to decorate their rooms. Dries is seen re-adjusting the figurines on his desk, showing a certain pedantry. He confesses, that “on holidays, I make a timetable for every event – exact to the minute”. But their collaboration is successful, because “we live intensely, are maniacs for detail; but when we talk about ourselves, everybody tells only half of the story”.
Dries’ career has not always plain-sailing: the 2001 collection was a flop. “The models were not smiling any more. My business partner died, I could have sold. My output was too cold, romance was dead. And the public responded – they told me that they did not want this style – it did not sell”. But he is glad to have succeeded in turning the business around. He praises his co-workers, many of them are “like a family around me at work – I only need to say half a word, and they understand what I mean”. Ending on a high note, a fashion show at the Paris Opera Garnier, Van Noten can look back on 96 fashion shows “full of surprises; but I am a perfectionist, always seeing my mistakes. That makes me not the happiest of persons, but that’s the person I am”.
DRIES is well-structured, Holzemer always playing the role of the fly on the wall, observing, without putting his agenda first. And the filmmaker is lucky to have found a collaborator like Van Noten, who – obsessive about everything – is still open to the weirdest ideas, like copying ’60s San Francisco fashion with psychedelic post-Vietnam hippy outfits. AS
ON DVD and on demand on 17 July 2017 courtesy of Dogwoof.