On Teaching Fashion: I Do Not Know The Answer To Your Question

Have you ever lectured in a classroom filled with students and been asked a question that you could not answer? What do you do? Do you try to answer it as best as possible? Do you divert the question? Do you tell the student “we are not discussing this today” to avoid embarrassment? When I first began teaching I was worried about getting in this type of situation. My mother, who taught in higher education for many years, gave me great advice. She said that if you do not know the answer to a question just say: “I do not know the answer to your question”.


I recently heard from a frustrated graduate student who is unhappy with her new teacher. This new teacher is trying to rigidly adhere to her syllabus and will not entertain any questions or conversations that go off topic. The graduate student wants her questions answered but the new teacher is not prepared to do so. The graduate student feels that she is wasting her time since she feels that she “knows more about the subject then the new teacher since she will not answer the questions”. I asked a few undergraduate students in my classroom if they had experiences with teachers who would not answer their questions during class. One student said that she “can tell when a teacher does not know the answer to a question and would appreciate just hearing that instead of confusing the class by trying to sway her question away”. Another student said that she “felt ignored because the teacher would not respond to her question”. She said she “waited until after class and asked the TA who gave her an answer but she wished she had been acknowledged during class”. The most surprising information was a student who spoke about how frustrating it was for him that his teacher “did not know enough about a particular subject and she would discourage students from working in a specific area”. He said that this teacher “has a reputation of doing this and that if you want to do well in the class you will just do what she recommends”. He added “teachers have enough resources and that if they are not familiar with something they should at least be able to work with the students and not try to discourage you”. He was “disappointed and felt like he did not get anything out of his class because he was persuaded to do differently than he had wished”.

When I was filling out a form last year, I had to check the occupation field and kept looking for my area but could not find it until I finally saw educator listed under customer service. I was surprised as I never thought of teaching being the same as customer service. I always though of a teacher in the same way I think of a personal trainer. For example, you have a goal of being in a marathon next year so you meet with a trainer and tell them your strengths and weakness and they developed a plan to help you meet your goals. Now if I decide to hangout at the juice bar during the training sessions then I am missing out and nobody can force me to use the treadmill anyway. The question then arises “Can you blame the trainer for your disappointing end results at the marathon due to your lack of effort?”. If a teacher is part of the customer service field then it would make sense that they are held up to a standard of being able to provide you with everything that you need at that moment so that you are happy. If a teacher is like a trainer then the focus is on helping you to achieve your goals even if you are not going to like everything you hear. Although a student will not always hear what they want to hear from a teacher, which is bad customer service, the teacher has the big picture in mind and is thinking about your end goals, which is more in thinking like a trainer. If you are holding back from a topic or not answering a question because you have an end goal worked into your lesson plan, it might be worth saying this so that the student will not feel they are being ignored or assume that you do not know the subject. But if you are in a situation where you do not know the answer to a question you can think like a trainer and ask the student to research it themselves and let you know their findings and perhaps present it to the class. A student answering their own question will have not only provided them with the answer they are looking for but also reinforced research skills. This seems in line with what a trainer will do instead of a customer service representative. I would love to hear how you handle these situations. Please share your stories in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.


Sad Farewell to Worn Fashion Journal


Not strictly related to this side of the Atlantic, I admit, but perhaps an indication of its far reaching influence, today’s post is an acknowledgement of the end of Worn Fashion Journal, a Canadian based bi-annual magazine that has provided a much needed platform for critical but accessible fashion and dress journalism over the last ten years.

Personally, this is timely as it has also been a decade since I lived in Montreal and got myself a brief spot as a local reviewer of clothing stores in the Outremont area for Worn’s website.  I still remember being interviewed by Serah-Marie McMahon, its founding editor, in Casa Del Popolo on St Laurent, and thinking how exciting it was to see someone with no formal journalism experience wanting to give voice to the complex narratives, practices and techniques we associate with our clothes.  The first copies I owned, including the third issue (which is pictured above), contained such gems from how to adapt your jeans for a skinny fit, the history of bakelite jewellery to the advent of ethical fashion and interviews with Alexandra Palmer.  The diverse topics, the absence of advertisements and the emphasis on what people actually wear instead of what they should wear was a much needed antidote to the gloss and proselytizing of most mainstream fashion magazines.

Interview with Alexandra Palmer from the third issue of Worn Fashion Journal (authors own image)

I am probably not alone when I say that with Worn Fashion Journal, I felt I had found a like minded friend.  It definitely allowed me to have an academic interest in fashion and dress while still enjoying the fun sensations associated with dressing up and playing with clothes.  It also contributed to my return to the UK a few years later to take up a place at the Royal College of Art in London to study history of design.  I have much to thank Worn for!

A poster for the launch of Worn Issue 2, that I kept because I loved the design (author’s own image)

The gap left by its absence will be sizeable and I only hope that it does not represent the final descent of very independent fashion publishing.  Its presence was notable for its refusal to accept fashion at face value, trying to look beyond but always in a curious and non-judgemental way.  There really must be space for media like this because it enables us to hear a dynamic cacophony of clothed voices above what can sometimes feel like the constant drone of commercial, mass produced fashion. 

The final double issue is published on 22 November and the magazine is also having a farewell ball, which is sure to be well attended by its many followers, aptly named the ‘Wornettes’.

Cover of the final issue, published on 22 November

When looking for tributes to and articles on this inspirational magazine, it seems the coverage is predominantly by Canadian press.  I would love to hear from anyone who has written about or shared an interest in Worn Fashion Journal, wherever you are, and it would be great to know if anyone is thinking about doing a dissertation or thesis about Worn Fashion Journal – could be a very interesting project!


Parisian Insights: The 50s Fashion in France. 1947-1957

This weekend ended the Palais Galliera’s glamorous exhibition dedicated to the 1950s fashion in France. We often think that because we know all about the New Look, the Bar ensemble imagined by Christian Dior in 1947, we know everything about the 1950s fashion. Yet this display demonstrates how versatile the stylistic silhouettes proposed by the designers of the decade were.

Installation View

Installation View

Within its splendid 19th century palace, the museum decided to privilege a simple modernist scenography that would moderate the extravagance of the architecture and emphasize the garments displayed. The exhibitions follows a thematic thread built on the typical wardrobe of an elegant Parisian of those days who would change several times a day to assume her social and fashionable obligations: we thus explore daywear, evening wear (within a ballroom-like presentation), leisure garments and cocktail dresses with a few accessory and undergarment hints. About 100 objects illustrate the abundance of styles, cuts and adornments that for most reveal how Parisian Haute Couture optimistically gained respectability and glory again after World War II  while others announce a subtle fashion and social revolution, one that would burst in the 1960s.

The first thing you think of when observing all the garments displayed is how imprisoned the feminine body was during the 1950s, how male designers, led by Christian Dior’s iconic and scandalous ample New Look (influenced by Jacques Fath),  fantasized a luxurious nostalgic silhouette with heavy layering of material, rich adornments and girdled hips. Most 1950s wealthy women dressed to seduce and entertain not to work, they wear Haute Couture designs alongside Tupperware products in the pages of the magazines hung on the walls of the Palais Galliera. The masculine and liberated image of women established during the war was erased for a more conservative archetype enhanced by the structural undergarments displayed within the exhibition on walls as abstract art works.

Pierre Balmain, « Antonia », evening dress, spring-summer 1954 Collection Palais Galliera

Pierre Balmain, « Antonia », evening dress, spring-summer 1954
Collection Palais Galliera

Yet alongside those romantic corollas, we observe the voluminous and sculptural garments of Cristobal Balenciaga who still inspire many contemporary designers while Gabrielle Chanel’s tailored suits announce the androgynous silhouettes of the following decade. Yes, the Chanel garments of the exhibition clearly stand out. The designer who had stopped her fashion career decided to triumphantly return in 1954 and do what she had already done in her beginnings: fight against archaism and help women build their emancipation with the help of fashion. She despised the hindering silhouettes of the male authorities and created her very own scandal with her sleek ensembles that provoked a cleavage in the middle of the decade.

Installation View: Evening Wear

Installation View: Evening Wear

Although the 1950s decade surely embodies the peak of French Haute Couture, the couturiers of the period help draw the early foundation of ready-to-wear. The exhibition makes it clear that, alongside various social factors of course, the success of Haute Couture worldwide, gave birth to ready-to-wear. The baby boomers of the decade and their youthful tastes are not represented within the display but we can’t help but note how the section dedicated to leisurewear announces teenage fashion and the 1960s ready-to-wear. Led by influential cultural figures such as Brigitte Bardot, young women favor light coton, beach dresses, ballerina shoes, naive prints…that provide the body with unrestricted, dynamic and graceful moves. Those looser designs serve as and experimental platform to the up-coming 1960s wear.

Finally, just as the exhibition’s span begins with the revolutionary look of Christian Dior’s 1947 collection, it symbolically ends with the appointment of the young Yves Saint Laurent as Artistic Director of the Christian Dior house in 1957. Although at Christian Dior, he pursues his master’s opulent style, we know how promptly he would become the emblem of feminine emancipation and ready-to-wear in the 1960s.

Installation View: Day Wear

Installation View: Day Wear

The Palais Galliera exhibition was a strongly didactic display that not only diffused eye-candy but also proposed an innovative lecture of the decade’s fashion, far from clichés and easy assumptions and raised an undeniable debate: What do you think? 1950s fashion: revolutionary or archaic?


Further Resources:

Exhibition Catalogue: Bosc, Alexandra. Les années 50: La Mode en France 1947-1957. Paris: Paris Musées, 2014.






CFP: Creators and Consumers – Women and Material Culture

The 2015 David B. Warren Symposium on American Material Culture and the Texas Experience
Creators and Consumers: Women and Material Culture and Visual Art in 19th Century Texas, the Lower South, and the Southwest

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Proposals due January 15, 2015
Symposium held October 23-25, 2015

Bayou Bend is currently accepting proposals for papers on women’s experience of material culture and visual art in pre-1900 Texas, the Lower South and the Southwest, to be presented at the fifth biennial David B. Warren Symposium in 2015. This symposium will explore women’s contributions to material culture and visual arts of the 19th century, through making, decorating, choosing, arranging, or using functional or artistic objects. Subjects of interest include traditional arts and crafts produced by women; participation in or support of traditionally male creative activities, as well as women’s influence through their choices and consumption. Proposals focusing on Texas and those presenting previously unpublished research will receive particular consideration. Papers will be published in the proceedings of the symposium in 2016.

Participants are invited to submit a 300-word abstract proposal for a paper to be presented as an illustrated oral lecture 25 or 50 minutes in length. The abstract should be accompanied by a current C.V. Please indicate presentation length in proposal. In general, 25-minute lectures will be more appropriate for emerging scholars while 50-minute lectures will be appropriate for senior scholars. Paper proposals are due to Bayou Bend by January 15, 2015; acceptances will be announced by March 1, 2015.

The overall theme of the symposium series is “American Material Culture and the Texas Experience,” with the goal of providing an ongoing forum that examines pre-1900 Texas (as well as the lower South and Southwest) through the lens of American material culture. The symposium is named in honor of David B. Warren, the founding director emeritus of Bayou Bend.

For more information about the symposium or to submit abstracts, visit http://mfah.org/dbwsymposiumThose whose papers are accepted will receive transportation expenses, an honorarium for speaking, and a fee for preparing their manuscript for publication.


You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Mourning



In honour of the Costume Institute’s newest exhibition, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, Worn Through would like to recommend the following readings on fashion and mourning. Our selection includes a classic book on the subject to be revisited, followed by two more recent articles – exploring the link between 19th century mourning dress and 20th century fashion, and the significance of clothing in memory and mourning through English wills spanning three centuries. Have you seen the MET’s new exhibition or have any favourite mourning-related readings of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.

1. Taylor, Lou. (2009). Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History. London: Routledge.

First published in 1983, Lou Taylor’s Mourning Dress is a comprehensive survey of women’s fashionable mourning dress from the middle ages to the decline of mourning traditions after the First World War. Taylor begins with an introduction to European funeral practices and the social status of widows, later tracing the development of fashionable dress for mourning across social classes and from different countries. Supplementary chapters on mourning jewellery, the mourning dress and textile industries and the colours of mourning reinforce both the scale and importance of these grieving rituals in Western society over four centuries. Accompanied by over a hundred photographs and two appendices on fabrics and the stages of mourning, the book is a valuable resource to any dress or social historian studying the development and significance of fashion for mourning.

2. Mitchell, Rebecca N. (2013). ‘Death Becomes Her: On the Progressive Potential of Victorian Mourning.’ Victorian Literature and Culture, 41(4), 595-620.

On the occasion of her Golden Jubilee, Queen Victoria was depicted in a woodcut by William Nicholson that was to become extremely popular. So stout that her proportions approach those of a cube, the Queen is dressed from top to toe in her usual black mourning attire, the white of her gloved hands punctuating the otherwise nearly solid black rectangle of her body. Less than thirty years later, another simple image of a woman in black would prove to be equally iconic: the lithe, narrow column of Chanel’s black dress. Comparing the dresses depicted in the two images might lead one to conclude that the only thing they have in common is the color black. And yet, twentieth- and twenty-first-century fashion historians suggest that Victorian mourning is the direct antecedent of the sexier fashions that followed. These are provocative claims given that most scholarly accounts of Victorian mourning attire offer no indication that such progressive possibilities were inherent in widows’ weeds. Instead, those accounts focus almost exclusively on chasteness and piety, qualities required of the sorrowful widow, as the only message communicated by her attire. The disparity in the two accounts raises the question: how could staid, cumbersome black Victorian mourning attire lead to dresses understood to embrace sexuality and mobility? — Paraphrased Article Abstract

3. Lambert, M. (2014). ‘Death and Memory: Clothing Bequests in English Wills, 1650-1830.’ Costume, 48(1), 46-59.

Specific clothing bequests form a distinct and often intimate feature in a range of English wills during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Carefully and symbolically allocated to new owners, garments were thus imbued with commemoration as well as financial worth. This paper suggests that gender differentials in this practice have been exaggerated as individual men could be as committed to the process as their female counterparts. Crucially, men and women without children or partners were most disposed to draw up detailed wills reallocating a range of possessions, especially clothing. In this creation of stewardship for chosen garments, individual personality and familial situation were more decisive than any general social or economic considerations. – Full Article Abstract

Image Credit: www.metmuseum.org



Domestic Affairs: Designing Hollywood


Between the ages of about three and five my absolute favorite film was Singin’ In The Rain. To this day I will still watch the ‘Moses Supposes’ segment to cheer myself up at the end of a bad day. I have sometimes wondered if this is not the subconscious origin of my adoration for all things art deco. So, needless to say when I saw the original costume sketches for Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ In The Rain amongst the hundreds of sketches at FIDM Museum’s Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection, it elevated an already astounding exhibition to one of my personal, all-time favorites.

Christian Esquevin

Christian Esquevin (exhibition guest curator) at the opening of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection

Featuring rare Hollywood costume sketches from the collection of author Christian Esquevin (Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label), FIDM Museum supplemented the beautiful sketches with pieces from their own collection including costumes, Photoplay magazines, and a rare, unfinished pattern for an unknown Katherine Hepburn film. These additions elegantly contextualized the sketches by showing the costumes from conception through fitting to finished garment, but also by placing the stars and what they wore in the surrounding social context of Hollywood’s golden age.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Unknown Film (1950s) Designer: Unknown Actor: Debbie Reynolds (b. 1932) Wool broadcloth, plaid silk twill & silk faille Hollywood Costume Collection, Recreation & Parks, City of Los Angeles FIDM Museum L88.1.11AB


Historical Epic Diane (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956) Designer: Walter Plunkett (1902-1982) Actor: Marisa Pavan (b. 1932) as “Catherine de Medici” Silk velvet, silk satin, silk chiffon, ermine, faux pearls & rhinestones Gift of Maria Cole FIDM Museum Collection 2005.845.6AB/C


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


Cotton muslin pattern pieces created for a costume worn by Katharine Hepburn, RKO Radio Pictures, 1930s.

However, the real star of the exhibition remained the sketches from Mr. Esquevin’s collection. FIDM masterfully integrated these pieces from their own collection without overwhelming or upstaging the actual sketches. They instead emphasized the various sketches: period costumes across from a collection of period film costume sketches, etc.

Mr. Esquevin’s collection is nothing short of exquisite. I confess to being very surprised at the detail and beauty of many of the sketches. I have always loved fashion illustration — but this exhibition fully revealed the difference between fashion and costuming illustration. Fashion illustration is quick, simple, capturing shape and colour more than detail. The sketches in this exhibition were amazingly detailed, and yet each sketch is uniquely the designers’ own. Without having any prior knowledge of the subject, by the end I could identify an Edith Head sketch purely by her drawing style, before looking at the film name or the tombstone.


Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925) Designer: Harold Grieve (1901-1993) Actor: Ramon Navarro (1899-1968) as “Ben-Hur” Pencil, watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.7

Easter Parade

Easter Parade (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , 1948) Designer: Irene [Irene Lentz Gibbons] (1900-1962) Actor: Unknown Watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.33

The exhibition space is small, and yet the exhibition itself is not. FIDM masterfully used the space to flow well and to display so many sketches without overwhelming the visitors. Sketches are grouped to emphasize different aspects of costume design throughout Hollywood, whether it is an emphasis on the period or genre film throughout the history of film, or to examine the studios, or particular designers. This breaks up the collection into segments that are easier to take in, while also giving a more complete picture of what costuming for Hollywood is and entails.


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection

The other great point of this exhibition is that each of these sketches — whatever it became, whoever drew it, wore it, or commissioned it – is a work of art in and of itself. I attended the exhibition with only a mild curiosity, and left with a new admiration of costuming for the art it is. And with a new perspective on at least one film I have loved all my life.

Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection will be on display at the FIDM Museum main campus until December 20, 2014. It is definitely worth the visit.

Have you been to Designing Hollywood? What did you think? Do you have anything to share on the subject of costuming, or sketches? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. As always, if you have an event or exhibition you would like covered, feel free to share it in the comments or to email me.

Opening image caption: Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


CFP: BIAS Journal of Dress Practice

BIAS Journal of Dress Practice is a yearly publication edited by The Dress Practice Collective, a student-run organization at Parsons the New School for Design. The DPC aims to join elements of visual culture, fashion theory, design studies and personal practice through academic and creative inquiry across various media. BIAS is seeking academic and journalistic writing, interviews, non-fiction narratives, artwork, photography and projects based on design practice for the third issue of BIAS to be published in Spring 2015. Submissions are open to students, recent graduates and practitioners affiliated (or not) with any institution.

BIAS Journal of Dress Practice Issue 3: Fashion + Surveillance

In a time of Net Neutrality, WikiLeaks and reality television, surveillance has become part of our daily lives on an unprecedented level. Issue three is dedicated to broadly exploring the connections between fashion and surveillance in this unique present, as well as the past and future. The following questions are possible starting points and not meant to limit interpretation of the theme:

  • How does a culture of looks and looking affect our daily dress practices?
  • How is technology being used in fashion to deter surveillance?
  • How is fashion used to discipline the body?
  • What are the connections between surveillance and fashion spectacle?

Written submissions must be 1,200 words or less and photography should be sent at 300-600 dpi.

Deadline: Please send submissions by January 12th, 2015 via e-mail to DressPracticeCollective@newschool.edu

Notice of acceptance/request for revisions: End of January

For any questions, please contact DressPracticeCollective@newschool.edu.



You Should Be Watching: Fashion and the First Ladies

Michelle Obama’s time as First Lady of the United States has been characterized by several worthy initiatives, such as Let’s Move! which strives to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation, and encouraging students to continue their education past high school through Reach Higher. In addition to her important work, there is one topic that never fails to get Mrs. Obama media coverage: her fashion choices. Mrs. Obama is not unique in this way, as First Lady fashion has been a subject of public interest since Lady Washington. This week’s YSBW presents several videos including news segments and lectures focusing on America’s First Ladies and Fashion.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 4.31.16 PM

Our first video is part of an MSNBC segment that discusses the late Oscar de la Renta’s connection to First Lady fashion. This clip focuses on Michelle Obama under the public gaze, and how her clothing choices are interpreted into ideas about femininity and standards of sartorial appropriateness for the role of First Lady.

On September 30, the National Archives and White House Historical Association hosted a panel that discussed the fashions of America’s First Ladies beginning with Dolly Madison. The panel features distinguished speakers Tim Gunn, Museum at FIT curator Valerie Steele, Chief Curator of the First Ladies Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and Fashion Designer Tracy Reese. (The panel discussion begins at about the 10 minute mark.)

Sandy McLendon, design historian and editor of jetsetmodern.com speaks at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the fashions of Jacqueline Kennedy, and her strategic use of clothing to create an image of herself and John F. Kennedy through his election and Presidency.

Bonus Video: As part of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, 150 students and high-profile members of the fashion industry were brought together at the White House on October 8 for a luncheon and Fashion Education Workshop. The video contains Mrs. Obama’s address followed by a panel of advice on succeeding in fashion, featuring Jenna Lyons, Diane von Furstenberg, Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu, Tracy Reese, and Edward Wilkerson.


Domestic Affairs: Art Deco Textiles at LACMA


I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for pretty much all things art deco. I endured Baz Luhrman’s ‘interesting’ interpretation of The Great Gatsby largely because of the design aesthetic (okay it wasn’t that bad). So, when I found out that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was doing a small exhibition just on art deco textiles, I made sure to go there even before the Kimono for a Modern Age or Treasures of Korea exhibitions I had originally headed south to see. Art Deco Textiles unexpectedly was a great precursor for Kimono because both exhibitions tapped the same inspiration sources in many ways.

The exhibition is small, and tucked away amidst the rest of the museum’s modern art collection of the same time period. Using one of the smaller galleries to showcase several lengths of fabric, placing the exhibition where they did masterfully put the textiles within the greater art and design context in a way that no amount of wall text could. With so many museums dedicating space in their museums to, and thus isolating, their textile and dress collections it does feel like we are losing some of the context. LACMA’s integrating multiple textile and dress displays within other aspects of the museum collection, as well as utilizing special exhibition and specialty display spaces is one of the many ways in which LACMA continues to raise the bar.


That is not to say the wall text was inadequate. It was phenomenal in explaining the Bauhaus school, its influence, and the evolution, début, and proliferation of the art deco style from 1926 throughout the 1930s succinctly and in the context of each of the pieces displayed. No mean feat.


The pieces and the wall texts not only placed the pieces within the artistic Zeitgeist of the time period, caught as it was between the two world wars and aimed to appeal to the “lost generation,” but also showed how art deco textiles were unique and original in their own right. The wall text in particular discussed the design process of each textile, and even gave the names to the now-lost designers.



Art Deco Textiles is both a fantastic introduction to the art deco movement and the textiles it produced, and a great exhibition for those who are familiar with the period. Small, but excellent, Art Deco Textiles is definitely worth the detour if you’re at LACMA.


Have you seen Art Deco Textiles? What did you think? Do you have an opinion on integration versus isolation? Art deco? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Feel free to share any upcoming local exhibitions or events in your area there as well, or to email me the details.


Parisian Insights: Dries Van Noten – Inspirations

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.

Gold Display

Gold Display


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. 

Graphic Display

Graphic Display

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…

Flowers Display

Flowers Display

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.’

Foppish Display

Foppish Display

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.


Further Resources:

More information: here