A modern, delicate line. Beautiful, sensual fabrics. And carefully composed cuts. Sofie D’Hoore has been designing gorgeous clothing for nearly thirty years. An interview with Belgium’s most discreet designer.
When Yasmine Le Bon described her outfit in an interview with the Daily Mail, which was a shirt dress by Sofie D’Hoore with Christopher Kane sneakers, Sofie soon got a call from the American Vogue. Who was this Belgian designer after all? Although her label is available at well-known department stores, like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, in the US, her brand has remained under the fashion press radar. Although her faithful followers always know where to find her. And Le Bon is not the only celebrity customer. “We’re very discreet in this regard,” says Sofie. “Our customers buy Sofie D’Hoore precisely because it is so understated. And to be honest, we’re really not that focused on PR. A few months ago, there was a photographer in the American Vogue who was wearing my brand from head to toe. Chantal (Spaas, Sofie’s business partner who takes care of the commercial side of the business) and I agreed that maybe we should start communicating more on that front. I’ve since forgotten the name of the photographer, again, and we just didn’t have the time to do something with that bit of news. That’s pretty typical.”
Sofie D’Hoore doesn’t do catwalks or advertising, which makes her brand less visible.
“It’s not that I want to stay under the radar per se. It’s just not in my nature to give flashy shows or make big statements. I just want to keep calm and do my job. Rather than just one show, my real dream is to have my own shop, where I can clearly express myself. ”
The new collection
Everything starts with the fabric
Minimalistic, clean, and pure. These words are often used to describe her designs. Sofie D’Hoore appears to be delivering exactly what today’s women want: comfort, simplicity, and modernity.
“The style of the collection is feminine and elegant, but understated and powerful. Simple. Which isn’t to say that my designs are simple; I work very hard on my patterns and my cuts are carefully composed. I try to create unique volumes in a lovely fabric, and then the garment has to speak for itself.”
Fabrics are one of Sofie’s favorite topics. “Yes, that’s my Dada; I can search endlessly until I find just the right material. And now, practically every manufacturer is willing to develop a fabric together with me, which is great. A good weight, a great cut, the right fabric in the right color… That’s what our customers have come to expect from us and what they appreciate. I recently saw two ladies spontaneously go over to my collection in the Bon Marché in Paris and one picked up a shirt. She said, ‘Feel how soft this cotton is’. Comments like that make me super happy.”
The word ‘crisp’, a lovely and under-appreciated word, is often used to describe her collection. Sofie: “Crisp is like how freshly washed sheets feel when you climb into bed. I believe the same is very important for clothing too. Each morning after you get out of the shower, all nice and clean, you can pick out an outfit and start the day off crisp and fresh.”
This crisp, economical style is highly appreciated. Sofie: “Many of the women attracted to my clothes are between the ages of 40 and 60. They are drawn to the clean lines and luxurious materials. And these ladies have the personalities to be able to wear this level of simplicity. I’m often told that my clothes make people look ‘younger’, which is such a compliment.”
How difficult is it to continue to innovate within a collection that doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles? “I’ve noticed that I continuously search more for the essence, that I tend towards folklore and traditional costumes. The kimono, the African dress, the classic blouse. If these cuts have stuck around for so long, there’s got to be a reason for that. These ‘archetypes’ are currently helping me to expand my horizons and find new inspiration.”
There’s a lot of fashion on the market, which occasionally bothers Sofie. “Sometimes, I think to myself, I’m in this fast fashion system too, I’m participating in it, in this gigantic overproduction. All I’ve got to offer is my own, modest solution: clothes that are timeless, that outlast every trend, and which, season after season, you can easily combine and fit into your existing wardrobe. And I actually do hear customers say, ‘I’ve had these pants for 20 years and I’m still wearing them’. ”
Must, will, am
Sofie studied to be a dentist. “I grew up in a medical family. The Antwerp Fashion Academy wasn’t an option; I was going to college and it was going to be something medical.” But she quickly knew that she’d never become a dentist; her interest in fashion continue to pull her in another direction. Sofie: “After I got my dentistry degree, I registered to study textile engineering. I had hoped that it would a creative program, but that didn’t turn out as I’d expected. So, it was off to the Fashion Academy, where I spent two years.” Until her parents cut off her funding. After which, Sofie headed to Milan to find work. “I didn’t have a lot of experience or references, but I wound up living, working, and learning so much there for four years. As you know, I’m a go-getter. If there’s even a small chance that I’ll still catch the train, then I will catch it. I never give up. That drive really helped me in Milan and I’m still just as driven today. I must and I will; it’s just who I am. I’m a perfectionist. If I want a specific tint of dark red, then don’t bother telling me it doesn’t exist. I always say ‘it doesn’t exist’ doesn’t exist.”
The offer to launch her own collection brought her back to Belgium and Sofie D’Hoore has been getting stronger after each one of the 30 years of the brand’s existence.
“I wouldn’t put it that way, exactly. I have the impression that we spent the first decade just plodding along. We only started getting stronger once we started selling abroad. Chantal and I have long had the feeling that we had to conquer Belgium first and that just wasn’t happening. We had several lovely shops, like Stijl, in Brussels, but actually, my style didn’t fit in so well here. The enthusiastic responses we got at our first international show were eye-opening.”
And now, she has 250 sales points around the world, in major trend-setting shops like Dover Street Market (London, New York, and Tokyo), where the Sophie D’Hoore collection hangs next to Comme des Garçons and Vetements, and in small, personal shops as well, like Noodle Stories in Los Angeles, Egg in London, Imarika in Milan, or MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing) in San Francisco. “Sofie is often found in shops with an eclectic mix of brands,” says Chantal Spaas. “We’ve always had customers who weren’t afraid to promote a new, unknown designer and I was always able to work with people who immediately saw the collection’s assets.
Footloose and fancy-free
Sofie D’Hoore has remained independent, without any investors – “There have been proposals, but Chantal and I have never taken anyone up on their offer” – and without any shareholders or agents. “Freedom is the most important thing to me. I don’t have to answer to anyone, so I can do what I want.”
Her partnership with Chantal Spaas is an essential component of this independence. It’s truly unique, this blend of creativity and commercialism that has grown together with mutual respect for the past 28 years. “We give each other space. I trust her utterly when contacting the shops and she doesn’t stick her nose into the creative process. She gives me feedback and will tell me things like, ‘your white shirts are selling well’. But if, even despite all this, I decide to only make black shirts, she doesn’t make a big deal out of it. She may sometimes ask me, ‘Can’t you put a little logo on there somewhere, like an identifying mark? That would help the sales’. But it’s more of an inside joke because she knows that’s not my style at all. That’s not to say that we don’t have our disagreements; those are there in any good marriage. But our discussions are constructive. I can see that she works really hard, she’s very dedicated, and she gives it her all. She knows that I’m the same way. That makes the partnership easy.”