With one piece of his work in the Valentine Museum, Felix van Driem is ready for his close-up. 

Ready to Wear

Fashion designer Felix van Driem, 40, is getting ready to debut his spring collection in February, in a show to benefit Save Our Shelters. He has studied at Virginia Commonwealth University - where he now teaches - and worked for private clients in Richmond for six years. He has also studied fashion internationally, in Paris, Holland, East Africa and Australia. Today, he runs Waterborne Corp. in Toano, where he designs haute couture and luxury prˆt-…-porter custom apparel for men and women. Style talked with van Driem recently about fashion. Where do you get your inspiration?
It depends on the project. If I'm doing a project for an individual, generally they come to me with certain ideas in their head, or certain things that they want to express. And I use that as the kernel for my ideas. When I am just sitting around at home, or I come up with an idea, generally the inspiration comes from anywhere. I am very, very open to any kind of source of inspiration - be that architecture, arts, dance, the other forms of art. Or even if it comes from nature: I've done some designs based on flower shapes and horticultural-based elements. One of the pieces in the show is based on a trip to the hardware store. Tell me about that piece.
That piece is … embroidered with bushings, washers and rivet backs. And it's because I just thought they were really neat shapes when I was in a hardware store one day. This show is the first time you've debuted a collection that you've completely authored. What makes you most nervous about it?
Getting it done. [Laughs] I'm not really nervous about any aspect of the show other than getting all the pieces out on time, to be totally honest. I'm not a person who gets nervous under the gun. I used to be, when I was really young, but I've gotten to the point now where you just give it up. It's time for the show to go on, and it goes on, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. There's nothing you can do about it at that point. What's it like having one of your designs, the Fabergé Ball Gown, included in the permanent collection of the Valentine Museum?
I think that is a kick in the butt. I was very honored when I heard that they were interested in having it - I was very honored. I was just pleased as punch. I could have done a backflip, actually. I heard about it from my client [Rejena Carreras]. She had mentioned to me - oh, I guess it was sometime after the ball — that they had contacted her to request that piece. And she was concerned that it wasn't in the condition that was necessary, because she had worn the dress, and she was scared that she had gotten stains on it and that the embroidery might have gotten messed up, … although the museum wasn't particularly concerned about that. Their idea was, that is how it was worn. And that was what the condition was when it was done, and so that was the historical moment in time that they were trying to capture. So I didn't try to gussy it up to the point that it looked brand new. Is it easier to design for people with perfect bodies?
It's easier to design for people that have an open mind-set. It doesn't matter much what shape their body is. It matters more about where their head is. Because if they have a real rigid idea about what is going to look good on them, or a real rigid idea about what colors they should and shouldn't wear, or fabrics that they can or cannot wear, then it becomes more difficult to work with. Regardless of the figure type - I've worked with so many different kinds of figure types in my career - I can solve those issues pretty well. … If somebody is open and game and interested in experimentation and trying something new, then that's the best situation. What's the most common fashion mistake people make today?
That's a really good question — there are so many of them. I think it's probably a lack of nerve, a lack of daring. People pull their punch too much. They're too scared. For instance, a lot of people will immediately go toward black, because they think it's safe, or they'll purchase a name-brand designer because they think it's safe. Or they will go and accessorize an outfit with very normal or mundane accessories because they're too scared to bolster an outfit's look. So I think it is being too safe. If you're going to do something very safe, then do it all the way. And if you're going to be daring, go all the way. Don't muck it up. Be decisive about all of what you're wearing. If fashion is an art form, then why are there rules?
I don't think that there are any real rules. It's like when I've been talking to my students: It's not a rule that a skirt has to be a certain length, or certain colors go together and others do not. It's about being clear with your message. Don't muddy your message. And that is a rule which I think applies to most any art, as well as many other fields as well. … Don't clutter up your message. Be clear and decisive. So is it really important for your belt to match your shoes?
I try to make mine match my shoes. Not because of any rule or anything like that. It's just that I don't have mismatched belts that look good with my mismatched shoes. But I would if I thought that it worked with a particular outfit, then I'd wear it. That's not a problem. Felix van Driem presents the debut collection of his spring fashions for 2001 at "Style with Grace" on Sunday, Feb. 18, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., at The Bolling Haxall House, 211 E. Franklin St. Tickets range from $25 to $100, to benefit Save Our Shelters. 358-7499.

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