Tom Van Dorpe — Interview


Tom Van Dorpe


TOM VAN DORPE has an indisputable eye for talent. He was one of the first to spot the potential of rising menswear designer Tim Coppens, and he gave an early boost to the careers of Josephine Le Tutour and Marine Deleeuw when he cast them in for their first major advertising campaigns. He also can take credit for discovering fellow Belgian Hanne Gaby Odiele, who he first glimpsed in the crowd at a rock festival.

With these keen instincts, it’s no wonder Van Dorpe is a favorite collaborator of fashion photography’s new elite, regularly working with the likes of Nathaniel Goldberg and Sharif Hamza for Harper’s Bazaar, Intermission, V Magazine, and V Man. Since 2010, Van Dorpe has also shared his insight with Hugo Boss, for which he consults and styles. With his rare ability to bring avant–garde pieces down to earth, and make classic pieces contemporary, Tom Van Dorpe shows no signs of slowing down in his rise to fashion’s peak.

Tom Van Dorpe

After studying visual arts at university I was considering becoming a designer, but pretty soon I realized I was more drawn to the image side of fashion: the photos, the runway, the way things were presented. From there, my work as a stylist came naturally to me and I found myself immediately at ease on set, first as an assistant and soon after by myself. My arts background certainly helps me approach an idea from a more abstract perspective. My process is perhaps different for that reason: often I look at clothing and the first thing I see is the form, rather than the trend.

I love the variety that comes with my work — you can be with your crew at a poolside shoot in LA one day, and in the middle of a snow storm the day after, like for that first Bazaar story. The challenge of trying to create memorable pictures is extremely interesting to me. My work helping brands shape their image and grow is equally rewarding.

At a certain point in my career it felt like the natural move to come to New York. The city offers greater chances to young people. I came to New York in 2008 — a crisis year for the fashion industry when everything seemed to collapse and start growing anew. Moving here and leaving friends and family behind in Europe was a big challenge, but also the one that helped me grow the most. A positive attitude and healthy ambition helped me stay the course, even in the hardest moments. I was also lucky to have and make good friends. The ‘Big Apple’ is very welcoming and motivating, it makes you feel like everything is possible.

Fashion always needs new energy. It is also true, that in such a competitive environment, only the strongest survive.

I think we Belgians succeed abroad because we adapt easily. Belgium is a small country, surrounded by strong cultures — French, British, German — so we are naturally able to absorb and integrate other influences. We are dreamers who have big ideas, and we’re raised to work hard, collaborate and have a bit of fun while we’re at it – which is helpful along the way.

I still also work in Europe a lot, though, and really enjoy that too. The thought process there is very different, since fashion is treated more like art than commerce in Europe. Working in both regions, I think, makes you a more complete stylist, so I wouldn’t pick one over the other.

Numero Homme Wall/Winter 2014/15 by Nathaniel Goldberg. Styled by Tom Van Dorpe

Sam Rollinson by Benjamin Lennox for Interview Germany September 2014. Styled by Tom Van Dorpe

Timur Simakov by Benjamin Lennox for Interview Germany September 2014. Styled by Tom Van Dorpe

I never really seem to get inspired by vintage references. With me, it’s more about my instincts in a particular moment. I usually get my inspiration from the people I meet and how they move, or from conversations I have. I guess storytelling is very important for me — I spend a lot of time asking questions and building narratives from scratch in my head. Sometimes I try them out myself backstage, which people seem to find pretty amusing — it’s ‘method styling’!

My signature as a stylist is the great classics with a Belgian avant-garde twist. I approach my menswear and womenswear projects in the same way, and enjoy both equally. But I can put more of myself into menswear, obviously. When it comes to my own clothes, I have a bit of a uniform: sporty, loose, navy or black, often Belgian designers. I do love a tuxedo at night, though —  that’s the adopted New Yorker in me!

Out of the new crop of young Belgian talent, look out for designers Tim Coppens and Matthieu Blazy, and photographer Pierre Debusschere. Fashion always needs new energy. It is also true, that in such a competitive environment, only the strongest survive— but that is a natural state of things. I personally invest time in young design talents. I find these projects very rewarding.

Tim Coppens Fall/Winter 2013 Campaign. Styled by Tom Van Dorpe

I always hear people say “The stylists of your generation are so much nicer!” It makes me laugh. I’m not sure why that is — or if it’s true — but I do think that we are all friends and perhaps the perspective is different these days. We always say, jokingly: “No haters, but celebrators!”.

I love people with great energy and that’s the first thing I look for in a model. That is probably the reason why I noticed Hanne [Gaby Odiele] in the middle of a crowd — she bursts with energy and life and is truly unique. A model should stand out and feel like one of a kind. It’s also great to see enthusiasm for a career in the industry — it’s usually a good sign as you need a lot of perseverance to make it. I think it’s a great time in fashion, right now, since we are seeing the return of personality with individuals like Binx Walton, Lexi Boling, Vanessa Moody… all girls I love and who I’m super excited about.

I really enjoy the challenge of shaping new faces, but at times it’s also great to take half a step back and watch some of the great professionals at work. These days things seem to go a bit too fast to allow young models to develop and establish themselves. The same thing seems to happen with photographers, with some of the new names only in their mid-20s. “Moments” tend to be shorter, and careers too. It’s going to be interesting to see if this is a lasting trend, or if as an industry we regain some perspective on developing talent and allowing it the time it needs to grow.

I travel all the time and can feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere, but like most Belgians I am also a real nester. I love decorating! I’d love to build a house from scratch one day, from the design to the interiors. Definitely not for now, though!

Katlin Aas & Koen Eeckhout by Johnny Dufort for Interview Russia September 2014. Styled by Tom Van Dorpe

Andreea Diaconu by John Scarisbrick for Intermission Magazine S/S 2014. Styled by Tom Van Dorpe

Interview by Alexei Key & Anna Griggs
Text by Anna Griggs
First image: Sam Rollinson  by Kacper Kasprzyk for V Magazine Summer 2013

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