The famous “Antwerp Six.”
I’ve been hearing about this group for the past six months while I have been studying in a Masters program at Polimoda under the famous designer – and now dean – of the Italian University, Linda Loppa. For some odd reason, I had never heard about these talented designers associated as a famous group who graduated from the Antwerp Academy in Belgium and were trained under Loppa herself.
These names have been prominent fashion industry leaders since the 80’s and brought the world’s attention to the inventive styles of Belgium’s impeccable talent which include Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk Van Saene, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck and Marina Yee (replacing the almost reclusive Martin Margiela after his brief association with the group).
All of these designers have been able to develop a loyal fan base, usually without the advertisement of their labels, and have continued to withstand a strong international presence throughout the last 20 years.
One particularly successful designer from the group of six is Dries Van Noten, who was instrumental in bringing back femininity to women’s fashion while maintaining a base in Antwerp, and still supplying clothing to over 500 shops across the world.
Noten comes from a family of three generations of tailors, so it was somewhat apparent that his life would lead to fashion. He did, however, slightly rebel by becoming a designer rather than a store retailer like his parents.
The approach to his design is original and organic, a twist from the traditional money-making, ready-to-wear that we see on the catwalk. "It’s a way of looking at clothes, of designing piece by piece, rather than for catwalk effect, so each piece has its own value and can be worn how you want it," he explains.
His design aesthetic is somewhat less severe than the other 5 designers in his graduating class. The Dries Van Noten look is colorful, with lots of embroidery and has an ethnic feel inspired by countries such as Morocco, India and Egypt. Comfort is as equally important as the design itself.
He often creates clothing in a soft palette of black, white and gray but will add a splash of color in an accessory or detail to add contrast. His silhouettes are innovative and unique, usually covering most of a women’s body, but even though they are covered, there’s a sensuality portrayed with the draping and layering of fabric that sustains a feeling of strength and femininity.
Noten has struggled in the market at times because of his unique approach to design and somewhat nontraditional way of not advertising his clothes in a media-obsessed industry. His first notable rough patch was during the late 90’s when extreme luxury became the look of the moment, along with the obsession of branding and the media’s use of designers as the new faces of Hollywood.
His second major industry challenge was the introduction of supermarket type clothing conglomerates such as H&M. "People like H&M and Zara are pushing us very hard. People start to think those prices are normal, that you should be able to buy a man’s shirt for £20. But you can’t even buy the fabric for one of our shirts for £20, let alone make the shirt or live off the profits," Noten said.
At his Fall 2008 show, press seemed impressed by Noten’s effortless ease of wearability with such a multi-textured, multi-print collection. It was noted that his usual anti-mainstream collection didn’t have a specific client in mind, and could be adapted by someone who may have previously felt intimidated by his somewhat specialist feel. The collection still screamed originality and showcased Van Noten’s signature style, but with more of an openness that appealed to a greater variety of potential customers.
It is clear that with every seasonal change in design aesthetic, fluctuations in the international economy, and the media’s strong influence on customers’ perception of “what is hot”, Dries Van Noten’s original approach to fashion has maintained a strong, everlasting presence and will continue to succeed with each unpredicted challenge in this ever-changing world of fashion.
Perhaps small rebellions do pay off in the end….
Photos courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.