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A Celebration of Dries Van Noten’s Models: Then and Now

This season, the Belgian designer sent a plethora of his favourite faces down the runway to mark his 100th show; we explore their impact, then and now

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Nadja Auermann at Dries Van Noten A/W17Photography by Lillie Eiger for DazedDigital

There are many different ways that a designer might celebrate a fashion milestone like reaching their 100th catwalk show. Considering the industry’s propensity for marking these types of occasions with ostentatious events, campaigns and soirées, it was a surprise – and a quietly magnificent one at that – to see Dries Van Noten treat us to a centenary collection that felt at once awe-inspiring, and yet completely free from artifice. The staging of this collection was pared back to its base elements – the runway, the clothes, the audience and the models – and it was within this stripping down that its quiet magnificence lay, for each of the women who walked down the catwalk had taken part in one of shows from the history of Van Noten’s 25 years in fashion. There was the enduring beauty of Alek Wek, with Erin O’Connor hot on the tails of her multi-coloured dress; Michele Hicks, welcomed back to the runway after a long sabbatical; and the stoically striking features of Nadja Auermann and Guinevere van Seenus, to name but a few.

The clothes themselves were an amalgamation of Van Noten’s classic codes, with proud masculine tailoring and geometric prints (which he had rooted through his extensive archive to resurrect and update) in abundance. The music captured fragments of the designer’s favourite show soundtracks past, intertwined with compositions used to illuminate the work of Pina Bausch, another woman who has held a steady influence on his work. And, the casting: in a simple and supremely moving way, Van Noten powerfully demonstrated to the world that beauty has no age limit. In celebration of this sentiment, we look back at some of the moments shared by his models with Van Noten then and now, and chronicle some facts about their lives and careers. For they are as remarkable today as ever they were.

Emma Balfour, A/W95

Emma Balfour grew up in a travelling circus in Adelaide – her multifarious talents include riding a unicycle, juggling and performing trapeze – and started working as a model in 1987 when she was 17 years old. Moving to Europe during the early 1990s, her career began with jobs for the top names in the industry, including among them Dries Van Noten. She had a rebellious streak, cutting and bleaching her naturally sandy blonde hair to look like David Bowie during the earlier days of her career. Now, she is a mother of two boys and living in back in Australia, where she rides horses. But we’re sure she looks back fondly on the days when Kate Moss would call her ‘Mother’ – a nickname earned due to Balfour’s preference for knitting over more typically fashionable activities.

Kirsten Owen, A/W98

After being scouted in Toronto at the age of 16, Kirsten Owen’s career went stratospheric, her face sought after by designers and photographers searching for the pared back and ethereal beauty that she radiates. In 1987, she appeared on the cover of Elle in three different countries, but took a break from modelling in 2001 when working in the profession became overwhelming. Returning to the catwalk three years later at the age of 36, she proved that age was nothing but a number, and has continued to work to this day.

Michele Hicks, S/S99

Michele Hicks was born in New Jersey, and worked as a door girl with the club kids at New York’s iconic clubs Danceteria and the Limelight, partying with the likes of Michael Alig. Hicks stated during an interview in 2015: “What’s funny is, I wasn’t sure I could be a model. I moved to New York from New Jersey when I was 17, just because I knew I had to get out of my little town and be in New York. Cindy and Niki were huge. I wasn’t curvy like them; I didn’t have that ‘all-American’ look that was so popular.” Despite her reservations, Hicks carved out a successful career as one of the top faces of the 1990s, later transferring her talents to the big screen to star in David Lynch’s neo-noir psychodrama Mulholland Drive in 2001 (in which, ironically, she played a Hollywood casting agent).

Malgosia Bela, S/S01

Malgosia Bela was born Kraków, Poland, in 1977. She was classically trained as a pianist as a child, and later attended the University of Warsaw, where she graduated with a degree in literature. Starting her modelling career at the age of 21 – fairly late by industry standards – Bela stated during a 2013 interview: “I think success in modelling comes down to your look, luck, hard work, how professional you are, and, let’s face it, how well you manage the business side of things. I’m back in Paris now – where I live with my nine-year-old son. The older I get, the more I feel like myself. It’s like I don’t have to pretend anymore. I have a child and a family, and every year I become more comfortable with my own face, body, and character. I think that actually shows on your face.”

Yasmin Warsame, S/S03

Warsame was born in Mogadishu in Somalia in the mid-1970s. When she was 15 years old she moved to Canada with her family, later studying Psychology and Social Sciences at Seneca College. Her first ever modelling shoot took place in 1997, while she was in her early 20s and five months pregnant with her son Hamza. Suffice to say, her statuesque allure was snapped up by agencies, with Warsame dubbed ‘the next Iman’. Warsame is a practising Muslim and a staunch activist, working closely with the Somali Youth Coalition. The model has stated that she has seen progress in the acceptance of black models, but she hopes for more (as do we). 

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