21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten

Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner — the Mason-Dixon ladies — are two of my favorite people in the yarn world, and I’m really happy they now have a webshop and warehouse because it means Ann now works in the same building as me, which means I get to have lunch with her from time to time! A couple of weeks ago, she told me about her idiosyncratic take on thrifting, and I thought it was the perfect way to kick off Long-Worn Week of Slow Fashion October. So here’s Ann—

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten

I have a very specific way of approaching slow fashion: I buy old clothes on the Internet.

One very specific kind of old clothes: anything by Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer.

A decade ago, I discovered Dries Van Noten when I was lying flat on my back in bed with a cold. It was late, and the Nyquil was kicking in. The Style channel was on, and Elsa Klensch was recapping fashion shows. Willowy women floated into my bedroom, wearing Japanese-inspired fabrics and shapes, and Elsa talked about how this Dries Van Noten person was drawing on paintings by Whistler for inspiration.

Sublime. I thought I was hallucinating. I was a goner.

And I was really gone when I found that his clothes came with astronomical price tags.

That was in 2006. I began to follow Dries the way some people follow the Green Bay Packers. I await each new season, curious to see what will happen next. His fashion shows in Paris — here’s the most recent one — are ten-minute dream worlds where his explosions of color and pattern and texture and shape can bring me to tears.

I do not typically cry about a pair of pants, just saying.

I sense in him something rare: a combination of patience, curiosity, discipline and refinement that should be held up as an ideal for anybody who creates things. The energy necessary to create four collections of this quality each year — two for men, two for women, for 25 years — is hard to imagine.

This is my favorite Dries video because it shows him talking, filmed in his gorgeous Antwerp studio.

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten


Dries Van Noten runs his fashion empire in an unorthodox way. He owns his company, meaning that he answers only to himself, not to a corporation pushing him to improve profits, expand The Brand, or create bedsheets or beach towels or derivative crap. He preserves a pure vision this way.

The Independent writes:

Van Noten isn’t interested in keeping up with his competitors. In fact, he refers to them as “colleagues” – an indication, perhaps, of a magnanimous spirit that is rare in an industry transfixed as much with the bottom line as it is with hemlines. “Style-wise I do the things that I want to do,” he says. “But organisation-wise you have to run a company, you have responsibilities.”

Those responsibilities include to his stockists, his staff, and his suppliers. “I try to see that every season we have prints, so that we can work with our six printers. In India we have a cottage industry involving 3,000 people working on many techniques of embroidery, so for me it’s important that in every collection we have embroideries. Sometimes they’re very in-your-face and visible, sometimes they’re subtle. But they’re always there, so that I can give work to these people.”

The Financial Times writes:

Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer for whom embroidery is a part of his signature, has been working with the same family-owned business in Calcutta for the past 25 years. “A lot of people assume that if you are going to do embroidery in India, it’s ipso facto ethnic,” says Patrick Scallon, a spokesman for the designer. “But it’s a very respectful creative process. He has his designs, they have their views, and they both inform each other.”

Dries Van Noten’s relationship with the Indian embroiderers has been carefully nurtured, with one full-time member of his staff essentially splitting time between the workshop in India and the designer’s base in Antwerp, as choices are made about beads and fibres.

“It demands investment,” Mr Scallon said. “You can’t just phone it in. Maybe some companies send the work off through an agent but it is worth it to invest in this relationship.”

Most extraordinary: Dries buys no advertising. You will never see an ad in Vogue from Dries Van Noten. But you will see him in the editorial pages, because the editors can’t deny the quality of his work.

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten


My first piece of Dries was a skirt I found in London, 60% off. It was by far the most I’d ever paid for a skirt. Ten years later, it’s my favorite skirt, a dark jacquard with asymmetrical tucks that make no sense except that they shape the skirt in a fantastically tidy way.

I found a few pieces on sale here and there: A coat with a deep brocade border; a quilted skirt; a jacket with Japanese fabrics; a shirt with crewelwork all over it. For the most part, and for many years, my fascination was abstract. I couldn’t see how to justify spending so much on clothes, no matter how much I admired them.

Technology, as has so often happened in my life and work, changed the whole Dries situation.

Clever shoppers have shopped thrift stores for ages, but I never had the focus for them. Too much randomness for me. Now, the Internet has revolutionized the market for clothes sold by consignment. Sophisticated technology allows you to find exactly what you’re looking for. The online consignment business has exploded, and it’s possible to buy the most exquisite clothes in the world for a fraction of their original price.

The Dries I used to dream of is now something I can collect without any pain to my pocketbook. It is indulgent in its way, sartorial ice fishing. You never know what you’ll catch. And often, you come up empty. But I’m telling you about this because this new consignment technology means that beautiful, well-made, enduring clothes are available to us in a way they really weren’t, even a few years ago. Yes, eBay has been doing this for years. But eBay is the Model T of this technology.

If the goal is to find clothes that last, that are made by designers who care about the people making their clothing, that inspire you every time you wear them, then sites like The RealReal and Poshmark are doing something of real value.

And something that is a lot of fun, too.
Ann Shayne


Thank you, Ann! For my part, although I’m a devout garage saler and flea marketer when it comes to furniture and home goods, I’ve never been a clothes thrifter. But over the past couple of decades, I have managed to hold on to some things so long they’re actually vintage — it’s just they’ve been in my closet the whole time! That’s what I crave now, as I said last year: clothes with long lives and legacies. What about you — is thrifting part of your wardrobe, and how so?


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Elsewhere

Best of Spring 2017: New York

Best of Spring 2017: New York

I’m trying something a little different this season: looking at the fashion week collections city by city (as I fall inevitably behind). Starting where it starts: New York. The NY Spring 2017 collections are an especially odd hodgepodge this time around — running the gamut from sporty to ’70s psychedelic to goth, with no particular through-line other than an inordinate number of white dresses. I’m into the flirty little cropped fisherman sweater at Tory Burch, intrigued by the space-dyed onesie (or is it a sweater and pants?) under crinoline-like skirts at À Détacher, and puzzled by the three’s-a-trend situation of pullovers with button-up sleeves worn unbuttoned, as seen at A.L.C., Michael Kors and Lacoste. Ok, that last one looks like snap-on sleeves worn unsnapped at the raglans — but still!

As far as Bests go:

ABOVE: I’m crazy about lots of other things about the A.L.C. collection — a brilliant meld of sporty and flirty — including the black ribbed sweater dress over wide pants and shrunken striped turtleneck. And then there’s that last look, which my brain sees as a simple stockinette pullover in ash Kestrel, paired with some Liberty-print Purl Soho City Gym Shorts.

BELOW: Great little sleeveless, boxy, cabled number at M.Patmos.

Best of Spring 2017: New York

Knit the Look: Nastya Zhidkikh’s sexy little pullover

Knit the Look: Nastya Zhidkikh's sexy little pullover

I just ran across this older photo of Vanessa Jackman’s I had bookmarked awhile back, and had a whole new reaction to it. It’s Russian model Nastya Zhidkikh wearing a sweater that Jess did the perfect swatch for in her first Swatch of the Month post! It’s fisherman’s rib knitted on proportionally large needles for an open, lacy fabric, but in this case it looks like there’s a little bit of gauge-blocking as well: The upper part of the front yoke is done at a finer gauge. If you skip over that little detail and do it all at one gauge, this would be super simple to replicate as a top-down raglan, using my Improv pattern. Seriously, it’s like Jess’ swatch, Jen’s knitalong sweater and my black lopi raglan all merged into this sweater. If you like the marl of Nastya’s sweater, you could hold two strands of fingering-weight yarn together and use even larger needles than Jess did. I like the idea of using a Shibui’s sport-weight Twig for this — a blend of linen, recycled silk and wool with an unusual texture that I think might hold up nicely to this use! And if you’re not into the visible bra trend, it would look fantastic over a little camisole.

See this post of Vanessa’s for additional photos of this sweater — same model, different day.


PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Windowpane scarf


Street style photo © Vanessa Jackman; used with permission

Best of the Best of Fall 2016: Dries’ epic sweater

Best of the Best of Fall 2016: Dries' epic sweater

Well, in a pretty boring season, the Dries van Noten show was just as reliably interesting as ever, and I’m utterly smitten with the simple slinky boyfriend cardigan that showed up in look after look — over ball skirts and under blazers. (A boyfriend cardigan under a blazer used to be one of my favorite tricks; I can’t believe I haven’t trotted that one out in awhile.) (And speaking of blazers, I’ll take this one, please.) But the absolute, undeniable showstopper of the season was this epic sleeveless sweater tunic. Fashion people are always trying to amp up the classic cable sweater and I almost always think it just looks overworked and silly, but this? This thing is magnificent.

I’d like to see it with that killer awning-stripe skort, and the plaid trousers. Heaven.


PREVIOUSLY in Fall 2016: M.Patmos’ blanket-cardigan

Next of the Best of Fall 2016: M. Patmos’ blanket-cardigan

Next of the Best of Fall 2016: M.Patmos blanket-cardigan

Um. Now normally I’m sort of allergic to a hyphenate. But this cabled ivory blanket-wrap-cardigan — a big rectangle with pockets and a button band — is so good I don’t even know what to say about it. Other than well played M.Patmos, well played.


PREVIOUSLY in Fall 2016: Hat hair


Best of the Best of Pre-Fall 2016: Joseph is everything

Best of the Best of Pre-Fall 2016: Joseph is everything

Just as I was about to give up on Pre-Fall 2016 as being devoid of anything truly jaw-dropping, I found myself paging through the Joseph collection, involuntarily muttering “omigod” under my breath with every click. Truly, for me, it’s beyond words. I love the shapes and the tones and the Sinead O’Connor-ish model. I love the impossibly beautiful coat in look 1 , the sporty looks with the silk blouses, the scale of the pockets on everything, the easy layering, and those utterly perfect boots. This makes me want to wear red on red, and I hate red. And of course I love the knits, including the ones pictured above, but really you should go click through the entire collection. At least once.

These are two of the best outfits I’ve ever seen my life:

Best of the Best of Pre-Fall 2016: Joseph is everything

Knit the Look: Rachael Wang’s silvery cables

Knit the Look: Rachael Wang's silvery cables

You know my current obsession is slouchy dress-down sweaters over simple dresses, and I like ’em cropped, but I’m loving this long, all-platinum version photographed on Rachael Wang. To approximate her fisherman-cable sweater, all you need is Paton’s free pattern, the Honeycomb Aran pullover, knitted it in something luxe and silvery, such as Woolfolk’s Far in Color 03 or The Fibre Company’s Knightsbridge in Barley. Make it a size too big, and add a repeat or two above the hem.

If you’ve got the chops for sewing silk, you could easily make the dress to go under it. See April Rhodes’ Slip Dress pattern, which comes included with the Date Night Dress. Just cut it straighter and longer.

See Vanessa’s post for another look at Rachael’s outfit, head to toe.


PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Alex Yuryeva’s plaid pullover


Street style photo © Vanessa Jackman; used with permission