From the Faces issue
What's your first fashion memory?
When I was 6, it was a scarab dress with feathers worn by model Karen Mulder in Paris Match. I was obsessed. I didn't yet have the idea that clothing could change a woman's attitude, but I understood that it could take us to another world.
When did you decide to follow this career path?
As a child, I was already intrigued by the outfits of historical figures like Cleopatra. I didn't imagine their faces, but what they were wearing. That's when I realized that a garment could create a person. But I decided to follow this path much later, when I was about 21. I had just finished studying interior design at the Ghent School of Design. During the summer, I hitchhiked for a month with a friend and I thought about fashion, particularly the Antwerp school because its building is so famous. I fantasized about studying there.
So you jumped from architecture to fashion.
Yes, almost on a whim. In fact, I remember the first day at school in Antwerp, they told us we'd need a sewing machine and I thought: "Ah damn". I didn't know how to sew, I hadn't thought about that detail.
You've retained this experimental, architectural approach in your creations, notably at Y/Project.
Y/Project was my first baby. It was the first time that a project explained so clearly who I was, what I wanted to do and how. It still allows me to experiment with constructions, pattern-making, tailoring, how to re-imagine a dress or reconstruct garments.
You're head of design for Y/Project and Diesel, two brands with strong DNA. How do you manage to find inspiration for each of them?
Design is more of a vibe, a feeling. Each brand has specific codes that we continue to enrich through new concepts. For Y/Project, I imagine my silhouettes to be like baroque or historical paintings, like those you see at the National Portrait Gallery in London, with that royal, rich, opulent feel. I like this fearless, proudness aspect. Whereas for Diesel, my influences are very eclectic, and we surf on a pop side, more lifestyle, utility wear. If we had a credo, it would be: "I don't give a shit. Have fun, enjoy life. Whatever."
You've created a sartorial lexicon of your own, with strong pieces, some of them almost importable.
Yes, with Y/Project, I'm very proud to create looks that are importable or that will only be worn once, by Rihanna for example. After all, it's very human to make things that serve no purpose!
What motivates you to create more and more?
I like a challenge, I'm hyperactive and quite impulsive in the way I create. I need to keep up this creative energy to stay motivated, passionate and focused. I like to challenge my teams and push the limits. At my age - I'm 40 - I'm tending more and more towards a form of eco-creativity. I've been lucky enough to be able to develop a lot, to have a lot of fun and no limits. Today, I prefer a more responsible fashion, calculating the social and environmental impact.
We often talk about a face to embody a brand. How do you choose your models?
With Y/Project, we have a fairly old-fashioned vision, like the designers of the '90s who weren't there just to please the hypes or Instagram. But I've also tried to bring the reality of the street into the catwalk, something my predecessors did less of. We've always talked about inclusivity. Diesel is a brand that's still 45 years old, focused on straight white men, that wasn't very open-minded, and today we've really succeeded in opening up Diesel's image to reality and the zeitgeist.
You were one of the last finalists for the LVMH Prize in 2016. What do you remember about it?
It was a very creative year and I remember the jury was incredible. There was Phoebe Philo, Karl Lagerfeld, Jonathan Anderson and lots of creatives I admired. They were all there in front of me, a great bunch of so-high-level designers, it was impressive.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given in your career?
Francesca Bellettini, the CEO of Yves Saint Laurent and my godmother at Andam, said to me, "Stay true to what people fell in love with you for." Stay true to your first love.