Have we lost another creative director to the philistines? Dissecting the Dries Van Noten/ Puig deal.
Independent designer fashion house Dries Van Noten has sold a majority stake to Barcelona-based fashion and fragrance company Puig. The Belgian fashion designer will remain a significant minority shareholder, while continuing his role as Chief Creative Officer and Chairman of the Board.
Are we witnessing the extinction of the independent fashion designer? Once upon a time, not so terribly long ago, the primary ambition among most fashion students was to emerge as the next McQueen, Marc, Coco; an ambition which Dries had attained.
If it can be done successfully, the independent designer can pursue his or her vision freely. Not having to answer to share holders means shaping one’s brand and subsequent collections with the reckless abandon of an artist. Passion projects—while never the bread and butter of the brand are sometimes essential to the execution of one’s prowess and can be undertaken at will.
This art for art’s sake ethos where each element is carefully crafted strikes me as quintessential Dries. Gorgeous, above all, and highly artistic if not a bit excessive. Were the flower arrangements encased in ice blocks at his 2017 show strictly necessary to the bottom line? Likely not, but the image of water puddles seeping onto the runway is ingrained in my memory.
Usually these significant details are considered laughable, even superfluous when the reigns are handed over to the philistines whose main objective is turning a profit, not in shaping a vision just so. When Jenna Lyons exited J.Crew, for example, it marked a serious turning point in the brand’s creative direction namely in the form of cheap fabrics and ubiquitous silhouettes emptied of the quirky glamour she imparted.
However, it would be unfair to categorize Puig as philistines. Their portfolio consists of entirely respectable houses (Nina Ricci, Carolina Herrera and Paco Rabanne.) Though I fear the deal will have somewhat of a dampening affect on the future of the Dries Van Noten brand, boiling his aesthetic down to a formula to be executed easily and effortlessly en masse, digested as swiftly and painlessly as a pretty picture with little effort on the part of the wearer. I can’t help but wonder, too, if some of the extravagance and decadence of his shows is going to be forfeited in the name of commercial viability and loathsome budgets which are par for the course in corporations.
Yet Dries has demonstrated a penchant for business and staying power leading me to believe that he knows what he’s doing. One of the “Antwerp Six”, a coterie of fashion designers who came out of Antwer’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts between 1980-81, Dries has proven to be really the only one worth remembering—save Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela. Dries made sense of eccentricity for the sensible woman who always tilted more towards the mainstream than the rebel or avant garde embraced by Demeulemeester and Margiela.
The deal might not prove to be so detrimental after all, yet it still doesn’t diminish the sneaking notion that we are living in a time where cultivated thoughtfulness is losing its pull for more tasteless—dare I say—populist ideals. The designer who can keep his or her house afloat without sacrificing the integrity of his or vision is a boon for all of us involved with aesthetic appreciation and concerned with good design.