Designers Dish: Dries Van Noten

Dries van Noten - H 2014
AP Images

Dries van Noten - H 2014

The Belgian master talks fashion film at Paris' ASVOFF

A Shaded View is shedding light on fashion film, with the three day ASVOFF festival showcasing a diverse slate of stylish cinema – from a short film starring Jessica Chastain, a feature documentary Travelling at Night with Jim Jarmusch about the Palme d’Or winning director, to a discussion with legendary director Alejandro Jodorowsky about his Cannes’ comeback The Dance with Reality.

The world’s first fashion film festival, launched by Diane Pernet in 2006 at Los Angeles’ Cinespace, has since grown into a high-profile global event based at Paris’ Pompidou modern art museum. "When I started years ago, everyone asked, 'What is a fashion film?'" said Pernet, noting that many brands invest in them now and that festival has grown to three days.

This year Belgian designer and red carpet favorite Dries van Noten served as jury president. Jumper, by director by Justin Anderson for Brit brand Jonathan Saunders, took home the top prize from Van Noten’s jury - despite featuring a main character sans coulottes, or anything else for that matter.

Van Noten, who had been given a carte blanche by the festival to add a favorite film to the program, told The Hollywood Reporter he couldn’t choose just one. Instead he showed clips from a diverse selection of films including Chariots of Fire, which he said pushed fashion in a different direction when it came out in 1981, to Oscar-winner The Piano, which inspired his 1996 collection. Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo, David Bowie's 70s-starrer The Man Who Fell to Earth, and designer-turned-director Tom Ford’s A Single Man, as well as a documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel and several nature and animal films, were also among those featured.

You cite features, documentaries, and short films. What do you consider a “fashion film”?

Everything can be a fashion film. Of course, at the moment with all the social media there are a lot of fashion films made but for me I like things which make me think. It is much more than a nice image, because that doesn’t say anything. A good fashion film like [the winner] Jumper [for Jonathan Saunders] is really something like a whole movie in four minutes. It tells something, it shows something, it is beautiful images but it is not only that, there is more.  People want to be surprised, especially on social media, things are going so fast.

How has social media how changed fashion and fashion film?

I think people are really much more exposed to it, and that of course is a great way to show things, and it’s really important to be pushed creatively in that way. … It’s going faster and faster. It used to be music videos that used to have that role, because it was like 3 minutes, four minutes, and after it became like a whole movie. I think fashion film is catching up to music videos, and maybe doing even better. Fashion people dare more, and want to do different things.

Is fashion film the last place a filmmaker can really take risks, or be whimsical or a bit avant garde?

I think you could do it in many more places than fashion films but I think they we are in a time when people don’t dare to do that. I think the audience is far more mature and far more interested in experimental things than they are given credit for, and there is a way it could be done.  But now fashion can kind of be the leader to show a new take on things.

How do you see fashion film developing as a genre?

It’s just something that’s growing spontaneously. I don’t think you’ll see a system pop up behind it, I think it is just growing spontaneously and everybody takes some initiative and things are changing and some things are a success and other things are not a success, and it creates itself in this way. It’s driven by people.

What’s the difference between a fashion designer telling a story with a collection and a filmmaker?

I think when we make a fashion show, a fashion show is very important. We don’t do a lot of publicity, so the fashion show is really the way of communication I have. So in that way, the fashion shows are really I’m really involved, I decide everything from the lights the décor the way the models walk hair and make up the music all these things because it’s kind of a real life movie people see in that moment. It’s not longer than ten minutes, it’s like a clip, an impression, and that’s very important.

With everyone watching fashion shows online now, do you see your shows as movies in a way?

You do think about it in a different way because people watch it online or immediately see the photos on or You keep in mind how you build up a fashion show. When you want to start with only black silhouettes you think twice now because on a small screen or an iPhone a black silhouette is a black silhouette. You have to keep it in mind, you can’t ignore the importance of it. It has changed, but everything in life changes, everything in the world changes, and maybe it’s change for the good.

The films that you cite have a broad range from classics to mainstream. What do they have in common?

These are movies that made an impression on my aesthetics, not necessarily movies that I “like.” It’s not a docket of favorite movies. It’s clips of films which formed me, which made me think about fashion in a different way. That for me is very important. It’s a complete mixture of fragments.

You dress a lot of celebrities on the red carpet. What’s your relationship to Hollywood? We don’t really push stars to be dressed in our garments. Of course when I get the request of somebody that I really like or really admire that asks me to make something for the red carpet, then of course I say yes. The most funny story was when I was asked by Cate Blanchett to make a dress for her for the Oscars, and oh I said yes!  And then one week later they phoned back and said, ‘Oh we forgot to mention something - she’s eight months pregnant!’ Which was of course a challenge, but in the end it turned out really well because she looked glorious in the dress I made for her, and then people were even more impressed, which was a really fun thing.

Jennifer Lawrence just wore a white suit to the Hunger Games premiere. Any other big red carpet moments coming up?

For me it’s not dressing celebrity. I like to dress people. It’s really the biggest compliment to have my garments be worn by everybody. I love to see the photos – Julianne Moore, Kirsten Dunst – people like that wearing our clothes and that’s nice. But it’s even nicer because we don’t push them. It’s not that we have a hotel room in LA with racks of the clothes. They do it because they love it.