Sonja Noël, the good fairy of Belgian fashion Fashion - 24 November 2016
Her vision of Belgian designers and the very particular attention she pays to their work makes her a bit of an oddity in the fashion industry. An encounter with a passionate woman.
Stijl, her store on rue Dansaertstraat, needs no introduction. A few years ago, she opened a second store on the other side of the street, simply to provide more space for the male brands she distributes. It was a decision prompted by an observation: "Men are increasingly interested in beautiful things. They appreciate cuts and materials and are less likely than women to chase after the latest trends," Sonja Noël tells us. When you become familiar with her philosophy towards her work, it is clear that this detail is far from trivial. After all, what spurs her on are the personalities of creative people, the stories behind their collections or the intention behind the fold of a jacket. In her approach, everything has to make sense: the clothes and the accessories that reflect her vision of fashion, and also the layout of the stores and the commitment of employees who are as involved and passionate as she is herself.
While she may speak softly, almost in a whisper, as if weighing each word before uttering it, Sonja Noël is talkative when it comes to evoking the designers she believes in. This season, she spoke at length with us about the Brussels designer Gioia Seghers and her admiration for her rigour and sustainable approach. So much so, in fact, that she takes her customers to see Gioia’s workshop "because it is near the store and I think this is the best way to make people understand that the price of a quality garment is fully justified." Putting her trust in young designers, this is the essence of her approach. "Twenty years ago, when Dries van Noten and Martin Margiela first started out, everything was simpler than today. In 2016, the pace of fashion was very different. However, it is true that, while the conditions were more conducive to launching a brand in the ‘80s or ‘90s, the issues remain the same, as do the values I believe in."
...and the others
When Sonja Noël decides to give a brand a chance, it is not to distribute it for just one season. "I give the brand time to find its place in my selection and in my customers’ universe. People need to understand the story behind a name to strike up a rapport with it. And then, beyond the story, the garment must clearly offer a real added value in terms of cut and how it falls on the body." Twice a year, Sonja Noël plunges into the collections of Haider Ackermann, Dries van Noten, AF Vandevorst and the Brussels designer Sofie d'Hoore with the same interest. She decrypts the message, the meaning of the prints, the rendering of the cuts... Passionate about theatre, fine furniture and contemporary art, the incredible curiosity of the owner of Stijl never seems to falter. It is not a fed by social networks, buzzes or trends. Instead, it is a heartfelt curiosity that injects soul into her brands.
Rue Antoine Dansaert, 71 (women) &
Place du Nouveau Marché aux Grains, 6 (men)