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An exclusive interview with Natan

Belgium’s Natan label has gone from strength to strength thanks to the vision of designer Édouard Vermeulen. He talks to Sally McIlhone about his inspirations and his plans for the future

Sally McIlhone

Feature

by Sally McIlhone

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Though Belgium might not be the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of couture, Édouard Vermeulen and the Natan label have been attempting to challenge this preconception for over 30 years. Vermeulen, who trained as an interior decorator before turning his hand to fashion design, began renting a space at the then Maison de Couture Paul Natan in Brussels in 1983. In the three years that followed he would go on to take over the label, renaming it Natan and showcasing his first catwalk show.

Endless inspirations
After three decades at Natan’s helm, Vermeulen continues to produce inspired collections that play with proportions and volume while still looking faultless and feminine. ‘I get the ideas from a mixture of things,’ Vermeulen says of his inspirations. ‘My ideas come from walking around, books, browsing the internet, shopping … That, combined with what I’ve learnt throughout the years.’ He has certainly learned much during his tenure. As 30 years is practically a lifetime in fashion terms, Vermeulen has seen plenty of change in how his customers shop and dress. ‘The women of today don’t shop for a specific event anymore. Now they want to be able to wear a dress with sneakers when going for a coffee in the afternoon, or with nice heels and a necklace to a wedding.’

An impressive portfolio
This versatility is something that Natan has a natural aptitude for, thanks to its five womenswear lines – Natan Couture, and the ready-to-wear Natan Plus, Natan Collection, Natan Edition 5 and Natan Edouard Vermeulen – which produce outfits for a diverse array of women, all of them ‘elegant, sophisticated, ambitious and confident’. But the Natan Couture line is where Vermeulen can really express his creative vision. ‘For Couture we have the freedom to use exclusive fabrics, we can work longer on the design of the clothes. The client can refit the item up to three times before we reach perfection. But the main thing is that it makes us dream, we have no limits,’ Vermeulen explains. This season’s Couture collection sees skirts and dresses blooming in floral lace in natural shades from olive green to rose pink, alongside impeccably tailored wide-leg trousers and sleeveless jackets.

A cut above
Luckily for Natan’s customers, Vermeulen has been able to make his dreams a fashion reality, designing stunning collections every season, as well as a stable of memorable wedding dresses and engagement outfits for royalty. ‘The wedding dress of the Queen Mathilde of Belgium gave our house a lot of international attention,’ Vermeulen explains. ‘We still often think about the time when we saw the first live images our dress on her big day.’

Royal appointments
As well as weddings, international tours require Natan to go above and beyond. ‘What is even trickier are the big missions of the queen. When she represents our country, for example, for a mission in China, we have to make sure she looks stunning every day.’ When it comes to the next royal he would like to dress, Vermeulen has his sights set on the UK. ‘I’ve been so lucky to be able to dress princesses and queens throughout northern Europe, but I don’t think the English royals have heard about Natan,’ he admits. ‘Maybe one day …’

Timeless elegance
With the clothing designed to be what Vermeulen describes as ‘timeless, feminine and contemporary’, Natan’s stores have to be just as polished to make the perfect backdrop. ‘We care obsessively about the aesthetics of the stores,’ says the designer. ‘The oldest ready-to-wear store was remodelled by the famous architect Vincent van Duysen (who just designed Alexander Wang’s new flagship store in London) 20 years ago, and still looks relevant and up to date.’ With his interior decoration background, Vermeulen is still able to offer his design touches to Natan’s boutiques. ‘I look for fine lines, elegant forms … That remains the same when creating fashion. And I can still use my degree when we remodel a store, and enjoy it very much,’ he says.

Summertime glamour
For spring/summer 2016, Natan’s Eduoard Vermeulen ready-to-wear collection included full-length gowns in raspberry lace and cream with stripes in golden tones; oranges and blues; coordinating skirts and sleeveless tops in red with a pink and white cherry blossom print; and a selection of lightweight silk T-shirts and shorts. From city strolls to garden parties, there’s an outfit for every possible occasion.

As for the future, Vermeulen has his sights set on further expansion for the brand. ‘We are heading to London with our next collection,’ he explains. ‘We know the Benelux territory very well, and now we would like to get to know Londoners. We are very excited about this big step.’  To discover this stunning brand on home soil, be sure to visit its Antwerp and Brussels boutiques to find something truly exquisite.

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