Paris Fashion Week: Dries Van Noten’s eclectic inspirations

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Sorry PRs but my big highlight of Paris Fashion Week wasn’t the shows or the parties but the new exhibition, Dries Van Noten: Inspirations. Showing at the Arts Decoratifs Museum until 31st August, Dries Van Noten and curator Pamela Golbin have coincidentally created an assemblage of exhibits that encompasses a number of my own favourite themes.

Downstairs is big on the foppish overlaps of masculinity and femininity, the romance of youth subcultures and a fascination with British monarchy and society. As you enter the exhibition through Azuma Makoto’s giant floral fantasia, you’re greeted by a room wallpapered with pop culture references. From camp Divine posters to Interview magazine covers, these are easily recognisable to anyone who grew up in the 80s. Dries Van Noten’s early designs from his student days at the Antwerp Royal Academy (his 1981 sun motif coat looks especially contemporary) sit alongside influential pieces by Kenzo, Mugler, Versace and Worlds End-era Westwood, culled from the museum’s own archive.

The subsequent vitrines are grouped in themes such as ‘Iconoclast’, ‘Graphic’ and ‘Butterflies’ and display seemingly disparate items – a film clip, artwork or ancient textile piece – alongside examples from a chosen Dries Van Noten collection, to demonstrate his creative through process. It’s funny to think this is the first time a designer exhibition (it’s not billed as a retrospective) has been presented this way because it really makes a lot of sense in revealing the common passions and aesthetics of the brand and the man.

This early Kenzo suit inspired Dries and his 1980s student contemporaries
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The 1981 Dries Van Noten sun-motif coat
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Vivienne Westwood’s Wolds End-era pieces
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Damien Hirst’s butterly painting, Rapture serves as inspiration for menswear 2000
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Video footage from Chariots of Fire and the menswear catwalk show are projected straight onto the glass
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A medley of Hollywood kisses inspired the tuxedo gender blending of AW13
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The AW09/10 collection shown against a backdrop of Perry Ogden’s 1998 photo of Francis Bacon’s shambolic studio. You can see how the mix of colours has directly infused the collection
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A scene from Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ shows on a loop next to a trio of Victorian bootees
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Victor Vasarely’s geometric rigour is translated in fluid silk
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The Jean Cocteau Cartier sword reappears from the Cartier exhibition just that finished in Paris
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Gender codes, eccentricity, and themes of self expression recur throughout the first half of the exhibition, as do Elizabeth Peyton’s paintings of ‘immaculately-attired young men’…
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Just as you’re thinking, ‘wait, where’s the colour, print and ethnic influences?’, you’re led up to part two. (Tip: you’d better allow a good two hours if you’re like me and want to linger over every last detail.) Here you’ll find the explosion of colour and chaos delivered by Dries’ love affair with India, artisan techniques and Orientalism.

I was hooked on the video of his AW2003/4 collection, showing fur-scarved models in eclectic layers and theatrically rimmed eyes that don’t seem to have dated one bit. Here the rich archives of the Arts Decoratifs Museum comes up trumps again. Forget your cares and marvel at the Balenciaga and Dior sari-style dresses and a stop-you-in-your-tracks 1987 Mugler gown strewn with flowers. Or the stunning Kees Van Dongen portrait of his lover, Madame Jasmy Alvin…

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Close-up of the 1987 silk Mugler robe
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Intense florals and gold – two of Dries Van Noten’s favourite things
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A wall of screens showing the Indian beaders and embroiderers at work. There’s an army of skilled craftsmen who rely on the work generated by the brand. Hence the reason for all that embellishment!
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Kees Van Dongen’s 1925 painting, ‘Madame Jasmy’ inspires my favourite collection from 2003/4
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I think this exhibition was especially appealing to me as I love a magpie-collage approach and finding connections between supposedly unrelated things. And how great to see that so many of my ongoing obsessions make up the Dries reference library too. Elizabeth Peyton paintings crop up more than once, as does Jean Cocteau with his Cartier sword making a reappearance from the Cartier exhibition at the Grand Palais only a few weeks ago.

Do try to get to the exhibition if you’re in Paris during the next few months. If not, the Hamish Bowles-authored book can be pre-ordered on Amazon, due for release on 26th March. Naturally, I’ve put my order in already.

WORDS AND IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links* and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here

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