Shimmering fabrics and a sparkling legacy: Dries van Noten bids farewell

<span>The clothes were distinctively Dries Van Noten at the designer’s spring/summer 2025 menswear show at Paris fashion week.</span><span>Photograph: Johanna Geron/Reuters</span>
The clothes were distinctively Dries Van Noten at the designer’s spring/summer 2025 menswear show at Paris fashion week.Photograph: Johanna Geron/Reuters

In 1986 Dries van Noten kickstarted his fashion career when he and five other graduates from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (including Ann Demeulemeester and Walter van Beirendonck) crammed into a rental van and drove to a London trade show. Known as the Antwerp Six, their avant garde designs put Belgian design on the map.

Thirty-eight years later, on Saturday night in Paris, van Noten penned his final fashion chapter with a swan song show for his eponymous label. The show took place just three months after van Noten, in a move that shocked the industry, announced his retirement. “My dream was to have a voice in fashion,” he penned in a public letter. “That dream came true. Now, I want to shift my focus to all the things I never had time for.”

Van Noten said he didn’t want his final show to be a retrospective. Nor did he want it to feel nostalgic. The result was a night that felt like a billet-doux to fashion. A silver foil invitation sent to every guest was simply emblazoned with the word “love”.

The show took place in a former boiler-making factory on the outskirts of Paris. A giant 3D box upon which a video of van Noten’s greatest hits were projected greeted guests at a cocktail reception. Van Noten was there too mingling with peers including Diane von Fürstenberg, Thom Browne and Demeulemeester and musing on how so far his retirement plans were less than idle, although he does plan to take a holiday that lasts more than 10 days – the longest amount of time he ever took off during his design career.

Many of the guests wore the brand, pulling out their favourite pieces over the years, in a way that felt like their own sartorial love letter to the designer.

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Edward L Buchanan, a designer and fashion director of the Perfect Magazine described van Noten as “a poet”. “He’s written a beautiful story. And the ending is now his decision.”

Such is van Noten’s draw among fashion fans that he has earned the moniker “Driesus Christ”. His disciples range from students to intellectuals to celebrities such as Cate Blanchett and Timothée Chalamet. His design aesthetic favours rich fabrications, hybridising colours, textures and prints. He has said he doesn’t design for a specific person. Instead, each season he imagines several characters. His clothes provoke interest. They are conversation starters and exclamation marks.

His swan song catwalk, which lasted just over 12 minutes, was comprised of a river of silver leaf foil that softly fluttered as the 800-plus guests took their seats. As the first model strode out, David Bowie’s “Time, one of the most complex expressions” rang out. “Memory made manifest. It’s something that straddles past and future without ever quite being present.” As the show progressed, it shifted to Bowie’s Sound and Vision.

Van Noten may not have wanted to lean into the sentimental but as familiar faces from his three-plus decade career appeared including notable faces from his 90s era, such as Karen Elson, Alain Gossuin and Debra Shaw, one couldn’t help but feel reflective. Although it was geared around a menswear finale, this was a co-ed catwalk. The clothes were distinctively van Noten. Practical pieces such as utility jackets were adorned with delicate threads of glimmering gold embroidery. Trench coats came in whisper-thin shimmering fabrics, akin to Cadbury sweet wrappers. There were sumptuous velvets, glistening silks and florals that looked as if they had been freshly picked from his Antwerp garden then pixelated.

Ida Petersson, co-founder of the Good Eggs Agency and a former buyer for luxury retailers including Browns Fashion and Net-a-Porter, says van Noten has a fanbase who “are almost fanatical about collecting pieces each season. It is one of the few brands today where people still talk about and hunt down archive pieces. It’s interesting to see how few pieces there are on the resale market as clearly the customer does not let go once they have a piece they love.”

While government plans to raise the retirement ages in Belgium, France and Italy have resulted in widespread protests, fashion designers are notorious for rebuking retirement. The 89-year-old Giorgio Armani and 84-year-old Ralph Lauren still helm their businesses. As do Miuccia Prada, 75, Rei Kawakubo, 81, and Yohji Yamamoto, 80. Karl Lagerfeld died weeks before Chanel’s autumn/winter 2019 show. So, at 66 years of age, Van Noten’s decision almost felt pubescent.

The news was the fashion equivalent of Jürgen Klopp leaving Liverpool or Robbie Williams calling it quits on Take That.

He’s not going alone. His long-term partner and creative director of his brand, Patrick Vangheluwe, is also retiring. Van Noten said he first mused the idea when he sold the company to the Spanish conglomerate Puig in 2018. He agreed to stay for five years to transition the company. He ended up staying six. A successor is yet to be announced.

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Earlier this week, in an interview with WWD, van Noten expressed his uncertainty about that decision. Looking at his final collection he said: “Everything was hanging there and that was kind of difficult. I usually enjoy that moment, when you confront the whole colour evolution and everything you want to show hanging there on six racks. I realised that was the last one and, at that moment, I thought, ‘Maybe not such a good decision.’”

But van Noten is not completely stepping back. Taking on an adviser role, he will still be involved in the brand’s beauty and makeup line alongside the design of its stores. However, he will no longer own the Instagram handle that bears his name – and micro-details such as the choice of Pierre Marcolini chocolates served at VIP appointments are unlikely to fall under his remit.

On the night itself, he seemed content. He took his bow as ever in his signature uniform of a navy knit, white T-shirt and beige chinos.

Pausing briefly as if to take it all in, he gave one final wave before a curtain dropped behind him revealing a giant spinning disco ball as the first notes of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love dropped.

Earlier Bowie had mused on how “All is transient. Does it matter? Do I bother?”

As guests scrambled to pick up pieces of the catwalk foil as a tangible memento there was a feeling that his legacy won’t be shortlived.