An interview with fashion designer Joanne Vanden Avenne

Ever since she launched her eponymous line 3 years ago, business has been growing steadily for Joanne Vanden Avenne. She’s been busy developing her own signature mix of architectural shapes with distinctive prints on luxurious fabrics to make clothes that are elegant and practical. The 25-year-old Belgian designer talked to us about her last Paris showroom, her favourite name in fashion and where she sees herself in 5 years. 

You just got back from Paris. How was the season for you?

It went well, actually. We have new clients in Belgium and Germany and the ones buying the collection before came back for appointments. I have quite a few stores buying the brand in Belgium already, but the international market has become a priority for me.

What kind of feedback did you get on the collection?

People loved the knitwear pieces as well as the prints and bright colours. Anything in silk sold well. I felt the reactions were positive. It was encouraging.

Do you feel there’s a significant interest for young designers at the moment?

Yes, there is definitely a lot of interest coming from stores. The issue is that we are going through challenging times economically and buyers think twice before buying a new brand. There are not so many risk takers out there, but, then again, I completely understand their point of view.

How do you balance creativity with commerce?

That’s something every designer I know has to be aware of, regardless of their level of success. To be honest, I don’t like thinking about sales that much and am much more into the creative part. My clothes are not extreme or conceptual. They are made for real women and the bottom line is whether it sells or not. You cannot limit yourself to your own market either, as I don’t want to have too many stockists in Belgium.

Everything you do is produced here. Are buyers sensitive to this?

Yes, they are. Manufacturing costs are pretty high in Belgium and, if I had larger quantities, I would probably need to move my production elsewhere in Europe, but China is not my thing. I would never go there.

You studied fashion in Paris and never worked for anyone else. Why did you launch your own brand straight away?

I just didn’t have the desire to work for another house. I guess my collections were a bit crazier at the beginning, but I learnt gradually how to adapt them to the market and make them more commercial.

Do you have a specific research process when you start a new collection?

There’s no recipe as such. I like to read about artists I’m interested in and take the time to see some new exhibitions. I often drape on the mannequin first to see how the fabric reacts. It’s a very instinctive thing for me. It takes a few months to build a collection, but you have to stop at some point, otherwise it’s never over. The whole process is endless, I guess.

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been into textiles, colours and clothes. I love everything about fashion.

Was there anyone in your family who made you feel like designing?

No, not at all. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been into textiles, colours and clothes. I love everything about fashion. I chose to do this and I’ve had no regrets, since the beginning.

Who inspires you the most in fashion? Anyone who stands out?

Dries Van Noten is an inspiration for me. His clothes are pricey but they’re not as expensive as Ann Demeulemeester or Maison Martin Margiela. He can dress all kinds of men and women, but he has his own aesthetics, which makes him unique. His collections are commercial and creative at the same time. He has amazing prints and does a lot of research on materials. He combines elements in a very interesting way and there’s nothing heavy or clumsy about his approach. He’s one of the best, in my opinion.

I can only agree. Do you know him?

We met once and had a really nice chat. He told me how it was for him in the beginning and I was surprised to hear it wasn’t an overnight success. A lot of stores didn’t want to order his clothes and he was faced with the same difficulties young designers have to deal with now. You need to be patient and persevere if you want to succeed in this business.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I’d love to have more international clients and maybe open a flagship store in Paris. It sounds like a bit of a fantasy now, but you never know… I think it takes 6 years to get known and to benefit from your work and connections. I want to have more visibility and I’m currently talking to an agent for Asia. New York would be a great place to show my work and that’s also something I’ve been thinking about.