The morning after he accepted the Museum at FIT’s Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion Wednesday at an industry luncheon at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan, Dries Van Noten found himself addressing a slightly greener audience: The Fashion Institute of Technology’s student body, which gathered in a Seventh Avenue amphitheater for a Q&A with Van Noten, organized at the Belgian designer’s request.

This story first appeared in the September 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I really believe that these people are the future of fashion,” said Van Noten of his idea to engage with the students. “The way I make fashion is the most common way, and I want to show the students that there are a lot of ways.”

A brief introduction by Valerie Steele aside, the students had the floor for the majority of the hour-long talk. While the requisite inspiration and design process questions were posed, Van Noten’s unique business model proved the hot topic.

When asked about the fact that he’s independently financed, he said: “When I started in ’85-’86, it wasn’t my idea to be self-financed, it was the only way to start.”

Still, he admitted such independence has its benefits. “I don’t have managers pushing me for fragrance licenses, but I’m informed. I know what Barneys is selling well. I’m known for flowers, but where others might be pressured to put a little bit of flowers in because that’s what sells, I can still do a collection of black-and-white and checks,” said Van Noten, referring to his spring 2009 collection.

Other points of intrigue included Van Noten’s distinct design identity, much of which he said he owes to living in Antwerp, Belgium (“It creates a healthy distance from the industry. You don’t have to go to all the fashionable parties. That changes your mind a little bit”); what he considers his smartest decision (“Opening the store in Paris”), and, of course, his tips for aspiring designers. There, the designer championed the Internet and the lost art of starting small. “I did my first fashion show seven or eight years after my first collection,” he said.

Yet for all his sage words, Van Noten cautioned against advice in general. “You have to leave room for fault,” he said. “You have to do what you want.”

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