Listening to Dries Van Noten talk about scents is positively meditative. Of his garden near Antwerp he tells me: “I absolutely love it around Christmas time when the witch-hazels are in flower. It’s kind of a big shrub but has tiny little flowers and when there is a hint of sunshine it makes the most incredible citrus smell. I love the perfume you have when nothing else is flowering.” When the azaleas and jasmine are in bloom, “it’s like walking through a big perfume bath”.
Fans of Dries Van Noten’s romantic clothes may well know that the grounds of his 1840s neoclassical mansion are enchanting. Featuring a lake, a zigzag yew tree hedge and a Victorian rose garden, they helped him demonstrate the vision for his new collection of 10 fragrances to the different “noses” who created each one.
“I was explaining to the perfumers: ‘Look how I combine [the roses]. Not really following the rules. Try to forget everything that you know about perfumes and put ingredients together which can be quite surprising,’” he says over Zoom, the white brickwork of his Antwerp office in the background. This approach reflects his ready-to-wear designs, which often pair clashing prints and textures: animal prints and quilted velvet, florals and checks, richly embossed silks. Fragrance is “another layer, another emotion with which you can dress yourself”, he ventures.
Fragrance and beauty also add another dimension to a brand: one that has been on the cards for Dries Van Noten since Spanish group Puig acquired the label in 2018. (Van Noten remains chief creative officer and chair.) The 63-year-old Belgian designer collaborated with renowned perfumer Frédéric Malle on an eponymous fragrance in 2013, but this collection of unisex fragrances (from €220), lipsticks and lipbalm (€69) and accessories such as combs and mirrors is the brand’s first major foray into the beauty sphere.
Puig owns several other fashion houses with strong fragrance businesses, including Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne and Jean Paul Gaultier. The launch comes amid a boom in designer fragrances: in the US, fragrance sales were up 35 per cent last year from pre-pandemic levels, outpacing skin care, with scents from luxury houses among the best-performing, according to market researcher NPD.
Ana Trias, chief brands officer for Dries Van Noten, Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci, writes over email that the market for high-end fragrance is “a very dynamic growth area at a worldwide level, including Asia. The pandemic showed that consumers were willing to trade up to more premium fragrances.”
The new eau de parfums smell rich, intense and maximalist. Soie Malaquais, one of the standouts, is a silky scent with almost overripe notes of blackcurrant and bergamot in a refillable bottle combining Delft porcelain with burgundy glass. It’s delicious but possibly not an easy wear if you are used to ultra fresh and light. The lipsticks come in quirky refillable bullets mixing snake print and florals, and the vibrant colours last. Whether they offer anything wildly different is debatable, but they certainly feel authentically Dries.
Initially, the noses weren’t convinced by having two rose fragrances, to which Van Noten says he replied: “‘I don’t care. They are going to speak to two very different types of people.’ One is combined with vetiver and the other is with pepper, which makes the roses completely different.” He explained to the perfumers that “most of the roses in perfumes are feminine, sweet, rosy, soapy, maybe even powdery and a bit grandma, but the rose can be a symbol of revolution. It can hurt, it has thorns — think more of a revolutionary rose.”
Indeed, Rose Carnivora, which is described by its creator, Daphné Bugey, as “nature unfiltered, with all its little flaws”, has a certain earthy, smoky mystery thanks to vetiver. Think a tulle skirt worn with Dr Marten boots. Raving Rose feels softer and more “pink” but black pepper gives it a modern, spicy edge.
Van Noten chose not to try out the fragrances with test audiences to see how they reacted to the products because “quite often they are made a little bit easier, which I didn’t want to do. The more character they have the better.”
At the label’s autumn/winter 2022 presentation in an atmospheric, wood-panelled mansion in Paris in early March, Van Noten had told me of his enthusiasm for being backstage, immersed in the imaginative world of the make-up artists. “Every show you have to talk about make-up, maybe the eyes are a little bit dark or you have to put a little bit of shine, a bit more colour, a bit less colour. [The make-up range] hasn’t come out of the blue.”
Of the 30 shades of lipstick in three finishes — satin, matte, sheer — Van Noten says they “found formulas that have much more pigment, so you have very intense colour, which is my thing, and it also holds very well”. Another essential characteristic for Dries was that the products should be eco-aware; fragrance bottles and lipstick cases are all refillable and made with recyclable materials.
Other make-up products are in the pipeline but he started with lipstick in anticipation of the “moment we can drop the masks”, and because it’s transformative. “A woman can turn her back, apply lipstick, and when she turns around it’s another woman who is standing there. It’s magical.”
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