“I Think In A Previous Life, Maybe I Was An Italian”: Mr Dries Van Noten On Travel

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“I Think In A Previous Life, Maybe I Was An Italian”: Mr Dries Van Noten On Travel

Words by The MR PORTER Team | Photography by Mr Benjamin Vnuk | Styling by Mr Olie Arnold

5 May 2021

Mr Dries Van Noten is a man of the world. From Indian embroidery to tropical palm fronds and Western-infused Americana, a sense of adventure has always been a prevalent part of the Belgian designer’s work. But with travel at a minimum over the past year, the Antwerp-based fashion force has had to get creative in where he looks for inspiration.

“For me, in terms of designing, it’s actually better not to visit a place that I might be interested in,” he says. “I prefer not to go there, because I want it to be my vision of what a place is, seen through my filter.” That said, Van Noten is an ardent traveller in normal times, and a passionate Italophile. He’s been going to Capri since the 1980s and bought a house nearby on the Amalfi Coast a few years ago.

During lockdown, he’s been content to keep things local in his native Antwerp. “It’s a cosmopolitan village,” he says. “The diamond business and the textile industry historically attracted a diverse array of people, so there’s a huge mix of cultures to keep things interesting.” Here, Van Noten’s reflects on the travels he’s taken in the past, and tells us why you don’t always need to go somewhere new for a fresh experience.

On the importance of planning ahead:

“When I travel, I’m always very eager to see as much as I can when I go to a city, so I do a lot of planning beforehand. So, in the morning, when I’m at that museum, I think, ‘OK, I can also have lunch at that place and then I’m close to go here,’ and things like that. I make these plans because I want really to use every minute.”

On local food:

“Cuisine is a wonderful way to get the real essence of a place. Italy is synonymous with relaxed, easy socialising and I love the culture. In Italy, you eat according to what the sea and the mountains produce; fish from the port and wild fungi or asparagus depending on the season. When I’m in Paris, I try to eat French. Japanese restaurants, I keep for Japan. Maybe that’s quite straightforward, but it helps you really feel like you’re in the place, and that’s very important to me.”

On contrasting cultures and places:

“In the 1980s and 1990s, I often travelled to India. It was my favourite country to go to and every time I discovered new things. One time, I flew to Calcutta [now Kolkata] from Tokyo. I’d spent 10 days in Japan, where everything is so modern, organised and clean, and then going to Calcutta, where it was poverty, religion, beauty, ugliness, all of those things at the same time. It was a very interesting clash and it still has a big impact on how I think about things: how people have to live, how they try to find beauty in different ways.”

On his holiday haven in Italy:

“In summer, we normally go to our house on the Amalfi Coast. It’s very restorative. It’s by the sea, but in a small village a little way beyond the usual tourist spots. You have the water on one side, and we often head to Ravello up in the mountains, which is a magical, historic spot. In Italy, you have the food, you have the light, you have the people. Immediately, I feel relaxed there. I think in a previous life, maybe I was an Italian – a happy Italian. So, that’s why maybe I love to go there so much.”

On returning to a place and seeing it change:

I love to go to places that I’ve visited before already rather than always travel somewhere new. It’s sometimes enough that you can see the evolution in a city. For instance, in New York, I think the first time I was there it was 1980 and have seen the evolution of the city. And in the moment that you think you know the city well, you’ll meet somebody else who shows you different aspects of it. For me, it’s not so important to have seen the whole world. I prefer to see a few places and say that I really know these places. That for me is the most interesting concept when it comes to travelling.

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