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Dries Van Noten

Born in Antwerp in 1958, Dries Van Noten is the third generation in a family of tailors. Between the two world wars, his grandfather reworked second-hand clothes by turning them inside out and introduced Antwerp to the concept of ready-to-wear. In 1970 Dries’ father opened a large upscale fashion boutique in the outskirts of Antwerp followed by a second outlet in the city centre where he sold collections by Ungaro, Ferragamo and Zegna. At the same time, his mother ran a Cassandre franchised store and collected antique lace and linen. From his education at a Jesuit school, Dries acquired great moral strength and a very practical outlook on life. His family background ensured that he was introduced to the world of fashion, its rites and traditions from the youngest age. As a boy, he went with his father to see the shows and collections in Milan, Düsseldorf and Paris where he learnt all about the commercial and technical side of the profession. However, he soon decided that he was more interested in designing fashions than selling them. In 1976, at the age of 18, he entered the fashion design course of Antwerp’s Royal Academy. While continuing his studies, Van Noten began to work as a freelance designer for commercial collections for a Belgian manufacturer. This practical experience would prove invaluable when he started to produce and retail his own designs. The same year he met Christine Mathys who would be his business partner and tireless champion until her death in 1999. After graduating, Dries Van Noten continued to freelance before going onto producing his own collection of blazers, shirts and trousers. The line met with almost immediate success on its launch in 1986 selling to prestigious customers like Barneys New York, Pauw in Amsterdam and Whistles in London. In September of the same year, Dries Van Noten opened a tiny eponymous boutique in Antwerp’s gallery arcade. Here he sold his men’s and women’s collections, which were initially made from the same fabrics. In 1989, he quit his modest boutique for a five-storey former department store in the Nationalestraat, then a down-at-heel district with little promise. Ironically, this listed historical building had once housed his grandfather’s greatest competitor. Van Noten set about restoring it, retaining many of the original fixtures and fittings, including the name Het Modepaleis. Today the area is noted for its upmarket boutiques.

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