By  on November 6, 2006

One of the Paris season’s prettiest invitations—delicate dried flowers in a transparent plastic bag—came courtesy of Dries Van Noten. For those familiar with the Antwerp designer’s proclivity for fanciful florals and flights of folksy chic, it said: Brace for some serious flower power.

But for Van Noten, who loathes being pigeonholed after having worn the “ethnic” yoke for so long, the invitation was a deliberate way to throw his guests a curve.

“Usually, I use a lot of flowers in the collection,” explains Van Noten, who is an avid horticulturist and the proprietor of what is said to be a spectacular garden (though he allows only his closest circle to see it and absolutely refuses to let it be photographed by the press).

“By putting the dried flowers in the plastic bags, I was sure people would say, ‘Oh, another collection about flowers.’ But, for me, the invitation wasn’t about the flowers,” he says. “It was actually about the plastic bags, with the accessories in plastic. Flowers weren’t such an obvious part of the collection. This collection was about limiting myself. I wanted to take my style one step further.”

It’s a bright and unseasonably warm October afternoon in Antwerp, and Van Noten, who is 48, is seated in his fifth-floor office at his cavernous headquarters here. A bouquet of dahlias sits on his uncluttered oak desk, and from the windows unfurls a panorama that stretches across the Scheldt River and the bustling docks below.

Soft-spoken and reserved, Van Noten, his brown hair neatly trimmed, is dressed in natty chalk-striped blue trousers and a cardigan, giving him a slightly professorial air.

“I wanted to do a story that was really for the modern woman and to make a kind of evolution in my aesthetic,” he says, reaching for a rack of fabrics to help explain how he took his usual rich decorative trappings in a simpler and sportier direction.

“We started working with draping, so the emphasis naturally fell on the fabrics. The simplest cotton, for example, mixed with a paper yarn, produced a twist in the cloth impossible to get from cotton alone that changed the look of a garment. We also did mixtures of polyesters with silk or nylon with cotton. It gave us the possibility to do a very simple dress, just by the way the fabric draped or didn’t drape, to get something new.“Typically we also have some couture elements in the collection, like bright silk, or shiny yellow,” he continues. “But when we added to those sportswear elements, it gave a very modern twist to couture. You had a parka with a military or sportswear feel, but by playing drawstrings, you got a balloon sleeve or a round bottom. It was really very fun touching on those connotations.”

The effort certainly pleased retailers. Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director at Barneys New York, says it showed “a true, complete idea of what a woman can wear in every aspect of her life. He makes a woman feel unique and allows her to be her own style icon.”

The complete article can be found in WWD The Magazine, a special publication of WWD available to subscribers.

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