Virginia Smith on a Life Well-Lived in Dries Van Noten

Photographed by Craig McDean, Vogue, March 2016

I remember the first piece of Dries Van Noten I ever purchased. It was for my honeymoon in the south of France, and I bought it at Barneys. It was this incredible slate gray skirt with this beautiful orange iridescent embroidery all over it, and 24 years later, I still have that skirt in my closet. I’m not one who’s really precious about my clothes, I don’t like a lot of things around me and I don’t have a lot of storage space, but I have to say, some of my Dries pieces I have kept over the years and I’ve worn them in important moments in my life.

A black and white embroidered Dries top, I wore to the first restaurant I went to post-Covid lockdown. I have this black and red cocktail dress that I have worn an embarrassing amount of times to almost any cocktail party I’ve been invited to over the last 10 years. I have this beautiful sort of ’20s fringe Dries dress that, if I remember correctly, that I got that March of the 2020 lockdown and I wore it for a significant birthday I had during Covid in my barn in upstate New York, where I celebrated with a handful of best friends and family. I then wore the same dress for the Met Gala in 2022. Then there’s the endless clothes I wear to work everyday, but those special pieces have been so much a part of special moments in my life.

Dries Van Noten, spring 2005 ready-to-wear Photo: Marcio Madeira
Dries Van Noten, spring 2003 ready-to-wear Photo: Giovanni Giannoni/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images

The reality of the clothes—the proportion works for me. I’m a tall girl, I hate a waistline. His clothes are super chic without trying too hard. Ironically, I’m not so much a print and pattern person, but the proportion and shape of his clothes, and the colors… He has the most incredible sense of color of almost any designer in the world, in my opinion. “The Master” as my good friend designer Victor Glemaud and I refer to him. But it’s not just the clothes, Dries resonates with me as a person.

I remember this remarkable exhibit he did in Paris in 2014, “Dries Van Noten: Inspirations.” He took a small group of us through and afterwards Anna [Wintour] commented about his generosity, how generous he was as a designer. Because the exhibition was not so much about Dries but an homage to all the designers and artists who have been so influential to him. To me, that was so typical of him. He’s not a designer who sought the limelight. He’s always struck me as someone who loves making clothes. In fact, when he was here receiving CFDA International Designer of the Year Award, I had the honor of sitting next to him at that dinner, and he told me he never wanted his accessories business to be larger than his ready-to-wear business because he really thought of himself as a ready-to-wear designer. No other designer is telling you that.

Dries Van Noten, fall 2010 ready-to-wear Marcio Madeira /
Dries Van Noten, spring 2020 ready-to-wear Photo: Alessandro Lucioni /

In a season where we’ve been talking about multigenerational casting, reality-based clothes, and dressing for real women—that’s something that Dries has done forever. He’s always been that designer. He has fans of his clothes, but he doesn’t go after a celebrity base just for the sake of having celebrities in his clothes. That’s not what’s been important to him. As a woman, you always feel supported by him; he wants to dress women and that comes through.

He said another thing that stuck with me at the same dinner. He told me that he purposely didn’t keep an apartment in Antwerp. That every day he and Patrick, his husband, went back and forth from their country house to the office, because they didn’t want to get into the routine of not waking up in their country house. I was really impressed by that, how he really placed a value on his work life ratio, and the quality of his work and life together. And clearly that’s part of his decision now. And his gardens were infamous here at Vogue. I remember Hamish [Bowles] talking about them for years before Dries agreed to the story, and I think it was very much Hamish and Anna’s tenacity that got it for us.

My biggest fashion regret of all time is not attending the Dries Van Noten 50th show anniversary. The runway turned into a very long dining table, and there was a dinner right there on the runway. I don’t know what I let get in the way of that show, but I was in the car the next morning with tears in my eyes as Hamish was describing what went on. I could not believe I missed it and honestly I don’t think I missed another Dries Van Noten show.

Smith in Dries Van Noten, with her husband Patrick Robinson, at the 2022 Met Gala Kevin Mazur/MG22/Getty Images

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