Let’s set the record straight right now: I’m a huge fan of Dries Van Noten’s work. He’s the designer that makes me proclaim how much I wish I was very rich to be able to buy all his collections, you thus imagine how impartial such a groupie may be when it comes to consider the exhibition celebrating the designer at Paris’ Arts Décoratifs. Yet no fear I intend to be entirely unbiased but let me tell you, this is probably the most beautiful display I have seen for years…
The title of the exhibition is to be taken literally. It is no traditional retrospective but a journey within the fertile grounds of Dries Van Noten’s imagination and how he assimilates diverse materials to fuel his creativity. The display is arranged in various themes, not genuinely in a chronological order even though it does begin with a few pieces from his Antwerp graduation show, in 1981 and ends on his Spring-Smmer 2014 collection. We enter the exhibition through a dark room entirely covered by diverse names and titles such as ‘Grease’, ‘Iggy Pop’, ‘Superman’, ‘Diana Ross’ or ‘Like a Virgin’ that all evoke how versatile the designers’ inspirations are. The different ensembles are arranged as inspirational boards with an eclectic juxtaposition that sometimes clearly justify the design of a garment but also raise inquisitive questions.
The first alcove mingles his early designs with that of his fellow Antwerp comrades such as Raf Simon and Ann Demeulemeester alongside 1980s glamorous pieces imagines by Gianni Versace and Yohji Yamamoto’s minimalist outfits, the whole beside posters and magazine covers of the trendy celebrities of the decade.
The following themes look at Gold, Butterflies, Graphic, Bollywood or Foppish and establish conversations between Dries Van Noten’s creations, historical garments selected within the museum’s archives and art works. Thus an Elsa Schiaparelli butterfly dress meets a Damien Hirst majestic collage, lamé Chanel and Thierry Mugler ensembles are assembled alongside a 1909 embroidered costume from the Balkans while a New Look silhouette contrasts with an Yves Klein sculpture and a Vasarely painting merges with a photography of Serge Gainsbourg. Such diverse personalities as Cecil Beaton, David Bowie and Jean Cocteau are united as the dandy-like inspirations of the Belgian designer’s androgynous and edgy masculine wear – the combination of counterculture and chic gives birth to Dries Van Noten’s recognizable silhouettes made of layering, prints, flamboyant Baroque and bohemian cool.
The second floor diffuses a more dramatic feel, with a highly visual and colorful mise-en-scène: flowered wall paper from ceiling to floor that ultimately brings us into an enchanted garden and an exotic environment. Here, it’s all about flowers – he who loves gardening -Indian luxuriance and Mexican gothic, something of an Alice in Wonderland travels the world…
Despite being a wonderful occasion of discovering such diverse art works and garments, the display is also a fabulous way of understanding the creative process of the designer. And here, it’s no caricatural nor explicit inspiration in the idea of ‘I saw flowers so I put flowers on the skirt’, it’s more about how Dries Van Noten’s garments are based on subtle references and how the flourishing inspirations he surrounds himself with can lead to a cut, a print or simply a purpose as the designer clearly states on the walls of the exhibition: ‘The starting point of a collection can either be very literal or abstract. A painting, a certain colour, a thought, a gesture, a smell, a flower, anything really. What matters to me is the journey from the first flash of inspiration to the final destination, the individual garments, the collection.’
When we observe Dries Van Noten’s garments on catwalks or within boutique displays, one thing clearly comes to mind: these clothes are wearable and lack the sense of spectacle that would have suited more the grounds of a museum exhibition. Yet that’s how the scenography is such a success as it nonetheless proposes a dramatic atmosphere with its spectacular alcoves that resonate with Renaissance ‘cabinets de curiosités’.
There is a strong form of modesty in Dries Van Noten’s choice to not only attract the attention on his work but also on the many creations of the artists and designers he admires. Although the display doesn’t focus on the sole work of the designer, it invites us within his very intimacy, his mind. When we leave the exhibition, we can’t help but think that more than an exposition about Dries Van Noten the designer, we have just discovered Dries Van Noten, the man.
More information: here