Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Stephen Crafti

In the early 1980s, The An­twerp Six caused an avalanche on Lon­don’s fash­ion scene, not dis­sim­i­lar to the Ja­panese de­sign­ers show­ing in Paris at the same time. Amongst the group were Ann De­meule­meester, Wal­ter Van Beirendonck and Dries Van Noten. They col­lec­tively pro­pelled the city of An­twerp to the fore­front of the fash­ion world, with their mix of eclec­tic and anti es­tab­lish­ment cre­ations. Dries Van Noten has been a tour de force ever since, rep­re­sent­ing a bea­con for in­de­pen­dent fash­ion and proof that you can amal­ga­mate idio­syn­cratic colours, ma­te­ri­als and pat­terns with a wear­able and ac­ces­si­ble aes­thetic.

Born and raised in the Bel­gian city of An­twerp, Van Noten was im­mersed in the world of fash­ion early on through his fam­i­lies in­ter­ests. His grand­fa­ther, Juhiel­mus Van Noten, was a tailor, whilst his fa­ther es­tab­lished Nut­son, a large up­mar­ket bou­tique in Essen on the out­skirts of An­twerp. “Ob­vi­ously, when one grows up in such a uni­verse it’s part of your life, whether you like it or not. Luck­ily, my feel­ings went to­wards the for­mer,” says Van Noten. When his fa­ther opened a sec­ond store called Van Noten Cou­ture, col­lec­tions from Emanuel Un­garo, Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo and Ermenegildo Zegna pro­vided fur­ther in­sight and ex­po­sure into Euro­pean fash­ion. “Both gen­er­a­tions taught me, ei­ther di­rectly or in­di­rectly, this sen­si­bil­ity for gar­ment mak­ing, its tra­di­tions and rit­u­als,” adds Van Noten.

Van Noten is one of few ex­cep­tions to Bel­gium’s dark and brood­ing fash­ion aes­thetic. Al­though Van Noten’s col­lec­tions do in­clude black, moss green and dark inky blue, his sig­na­ture is of­ten ‘penned’ with joy­ous colour and vi­brant prints of­ten ap­pear­ing as though ap­plied with a paint­brush. Ac­cord­ing to Van Noten, what sets Bel­gian fash­ion apart, is the con­tin­ual abil­ity to per­son­ally and ar­tis­ti­cally ex­per­i­ment with his­tor­i­cal and geo­graph­i­cal ref­er­ences. “There was a big evo­lu­tion in fash­ion when Bel­gian de­sign­ers came onto the scene. I be­lieve this re­mains as true to­day as ever,” says Van Noten. “What res­onates most in my work is that I have al­ways used el­e­ments from all over the world, yet in a per­sonal or ‘lo­cal’ way.”

Art plays a vi­tal role as a source of in­spi­ra­tion with Van Noten’s col­lec­tions. Fran­cis Ba­con, for ex­am­ple, was the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the women’s Au­tumn/win­ter 2009-2010 col­lec­tion. In the book Dries Van Noten pub­lished by Lan­noo, Ba­con’s work was said to pro­vide a gen­er­ous mix of “Dis­tur­bance, dis­tor­tion and de­for­ma­tion – an un­com­pro­mis­ing view of the hu­man body and the vis­ceral. The un­likely jux­ta­po­si­tion of true flesh and ‘off’ colours in cloth­ing – ex­tremes of emo­tion: tears and laugh­ter, hor­ror and joy…” Ba­con’s paint­ings also in­formed the col­lec­tions colour pal­ette; filled with pinks, or­anges and browns ap­pear­ing in­di­vid­u­ally and co­a­lesc­ing. “The pal­ette de­pends on the gar­ment. I have an un­con­di­tional pas­sion for fab­rics and of course prints, most of which we cre­ate our­selves,” says Van Noten, who also takes his cue from the way a gar­ment drapes, or in his words, “their gen­e­sis”. “These are all es­sen­tial con­sid­er­a­tions in my cre­ative process. They tell sto­ries. And this will most of­ten be the de­par­ture of a new col­lec­tion,” he adds.

Van Noten is also drawn to fig­ures out­side of the art world and nom­i­nates an un­ex­pected trio of tal­ent who em­body a sense of dis­sent, in­di­vid­u­al­ity and whom unite op­pos­ing prin­ci­ples. “Kurt Cobain had a look that has al­ways been part of his rock star leg­end. He knew how to cre­ate a world that’s both unique and per­sonal and that’s still cur­rent to­day.” Mar­cello Mas­troianni, the Ital­ian ac­tor fea­tured in films such as La Dolce Vita, “was care­free, yet had an ut­terly sim­plis­tic el­e­gance,” says Van Noten not­ing his abil­ity to com­bine his ‘Latin lover’ side with an im­per­fect physique. Round­ing out his top three is the Duke of Wind­sor. “He had his par­tic­u­lar way of as­sem­bling the im­prob­a­ble to give a per­fect el­e­gance, with such a Bri­tish re­sult.”

These im­prob­a­ble com­bi­na­tions are of­ten seen in Van Noten’s col­lec­tions. His Spring/sum­mer 2014 men’s col­lec­tion, for ex­am­ple, in­cluded pat­terned Nehru col­lared shirts worn un­der flo­ral jack­ets with wide lapels − a homage to rock leg­end Jimmy Hen­drix who wore a sim­i­lar com­bi­na­tion in the late 1960s. The Power Flower col­lec­tion, show­cased in a re­cent self-ti­tled ex­hi­bi­tion at the Dec­o­ra­tive Arts Mu­seum in Paris, also com­bined neo-ori­en­tal­ism with the glam­our of the Re­nais­sance. Van Noten also shows an in­ter­est in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the de­sign and ma­te­ri­als as demon­strated by the use of flock velour, rich damask jux­ta­posed against the use of the ‘wrong’ side of the fab­ric in var­i­ous pieces.

Al­though Van Noten pushes the fash­ion bound­aries, he is acutely aware of the com­mer­cial re­al­i­ties of fash­ion. “The main ba­sis for cre­at­ing a col­lec­tion is to de­sign gar­ments that any­one can have as part of their wardrobe, to mix up pieces and make them part of their own style,” says Van Noten, who feels there’s noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing than see­ing some­one walk­ing down the street wear­ing some­thing he de­signed. “Of­ten they’ll wear one of my gar­ments in a way that I wouldn’t have imag­ined it be­ing worn,” he notes.

Van Noten doesn’t stray far from his self-as­cribed Bel­gian ethos, choos­ing in­stead to break rank from the fash­ion sta­tus quo whilst de­riv­ing in­spi­ra­tion from out­side of the fash­ion land­scape. From ob­serv­ing and di­gest­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures to en­gag­ing with a col­lec­tion of other artis­tic dis­ci­plines, the abil­ity to ap­pro­pri­ate el­e­ments from a va­ri­ety of sources has only proven to el­e­vate his sta­tus. “I will con­tinue to draw in­spi­ra­tion from other cul­tures and his­tory, their rites and tra­di­tions, but in­cor­po­rate them in a con­tem­po­rary way,” con­cludes Van Noten.

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