With a grace that can’t be taught, she glided down the red carpet — one about as far away from the presence of Hollywood as you could imagine. The Christmas red under her feet matched the season, guiding her through Brussels’ Cathedral of St. Michael, and into a new life. What caught my eye most — besides maybe the tears and joy of those attending — was her perfect frame of a dress, a blend of royal heirlooms and Belgian haute couture.
“The wedding dress of Queen Mathilde of Belgium — the combination of effort, time, excitement for the special day, and afterwards, the gratitude, made the piece very precious to me,” says Edouard Vermeulen, owner of Natan and one of European royalty’s most be-loved designers.
You could describe the dress for days — a silk crepe winter coat, elegant sleeves, tall collar — a perfect shell for the angelic pearl, Her Majesty. What’s equally impressive is that Vermeulen’s designs haven’t simply captured a moment in history, they continue shaping it. Since then, Natan clothing has filled the queen’s closet as well as closets of other royals crowned in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sweden.
Vermeulen says his philosophy is best described by one of the John Keats quotes — “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Vermeulen’s finest fashions, born of legacy destined to last, were not always “ruled” by monarchy.
A creative mind of any calibre has a certain inborn nature and vision that stays with the artist, regardless of what form his or hers art takes. Such is true with Vermeulen — an interior designer before the dawn of his sartorial significance.
“The connection between creativity and beauty is important in interior design and fashion,” says Vermeulen. “In both areas, I work with the same vision.”
It seems destiny delivered the designer more than simply artistic ingenuity. Three decades ago, the interior designer rented space above the popular haute couture house Paul Natan.
“It was by accident that I stumbled upon the address at Avenue Louise in Brussels,” says Vermeulen. “I was looking for a place to host my interior objects.” Though happenstance brought him to the haute couture house, Vermeulen knew its reputation well — his mother’s engagement dress was Paul Natan.
A couple years later, the artisan’s boutique beneath his interior design shop shut down. Vermeulen saw an opportunity and took over the whole building.
“Customers kept on asking where the couture house was,” says Vermeulen. “I changed my business plan and created a tiny first collection. I was fearless back then and probably a bit ignorant when it came to the risks, but it turned out very well.”
Knowing that history and legacy were irreplaceable, the interior turned fashion designer wanted to keep the brand’s heritage, but with his own signature stamp on it. Thus, Natan was born.
“I love that it is a brand with a true heritage and reminds us of the golden couture period,” says Vermeulen.
Even today, what Vermeulen loves about design hasn’t changed from when he first started — he loves “the New Look, couture in the ’50s.”
Haute couture’s golden period launched in 1947 with the Dior house, christened by American Harper’s Bazaar as the “New Look” — or best described by London’s famous couturier John Cavanagh as a “total glorification of the female form.”
Since penny-pinching was still en vogue, the full long skirts and voluptuous designs caused quite an uproar, until, of course, Princess Margaret adopted the fashions, enamored by their femininity and exuberance.
The prestige and bottom lines of British and French couture houses blossomed (all of which eventually became global brands), and London became synonymous with state gowns and immaculate tailoring, a tradition still alive today on Savile Row.
This charming period in fashion lasted until Dior’s death in 1957. While short, it was long enough to inspire Vermeulen, who vows to keep the essence alive. With the calibre of his clientele, it’s clear his commitment is coming to fruition.
Haute couture gives Vermeulen creative flexibility to dream and express his visions with no limits, while always honouring his simple (yet everlasting) design philosophies.
“In fashion, it’s about the balance of the right shape, and quality material,” says Vermeulen. “I use mostly nat-ural fabrics in combination with lace and beadwork to accentuate the feminine silhouette.”
Grace, charm, elegance — these words are as synonymous with Natan haute couture as they are with Vermeulen himself, a classic gentleman. His age-old perspectives of beauty and design suggest why his works of fashion are so timeless.
“Harmony is a balance of personal and professional inspiration that facilitates designs with my personal touch.”
Life’s experiences weave together for the designer, as design ideas pop out of books or while he’s shopping, or simply walking around, observing.
But beauty belongs to us all, and to taste the grace of Natan fashion, five feminine lines exist — Natan Couture, and the ready-to-wear Natan Plus, Natan Collection, Natan Edition 5 and Natan Edouard Vermeulen.
“I stayed true to the DNA of the Natan brand, and it’s important to stay true to who I am and what the house is about,” says the designer. “A big part of our ready-to-wear collections focus on items to wear for special occasions. That in combination with the timeless fashion and minimalist looks.”
Never ostentatious nor too extravagant, Natan’s ready-to-wear collections make a lady feel like one, inside and out. Vermeulen doesn’t try to change a woman, just complement her.
His vision for this year’s collection reveals his intentions — “As always, showing off the femininity and the way my designs can enhance it.”
Consciousness and respect for planet earth fit within the journey of grace that Vermeulen and his brand define.
In 2011, to honour Princess Maxima’s 40th birthday, an exposition of her Natan outfits showcased at the Apeldoorn Museum in the Netherlands. Among the dresses being praised was the one she was wearing — an elegant evening dress in fair trade fabric woven by women in Africa, designed, of course, by Natan’s maestro.
“Of course we all need to give back to society, and these projects need to raise awareness in public,” says Vermeulen. “It’s not always about designing pieces for mere statement purposes.”
It seems that harmony isn’t simply a design philosophy for Vermeulen.
“I think a lot about the comfort and the feel of my designs on the women wearing them,” he says. “It’s very important that they feel beautiful and confident about themselves in my clothes. That’s the real pleasure.”