The popularity of the fashion exhibition has gained increasing momentum in recent years, transforming itself from selections of historical examples hidden in the darkened recesses of permanent collections, into a rapid succession of lucrative blockbuster temporary exhibitions highlighting contemporary trends and designers, which typically draw in millions of visitors each year. The complex reasons for this growing trend are the subject of much debate, but one thing remains certain: both the accessibility of fashion and its ever more assured cultural status only continues to grow.
Dries Van Noten: Inspirations is one such example of this recent international phenomenon, and is currently on show at the prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. However, this tribute to the Belgian avant-garde designer, whose distinctive combination of curiosity, humour and artistry has consistently challenged the creation and interpretation of fashion for more than two decades, is neither a retrospective nor a simple celebration of the clothes themselves. It is, rather unusually in the sphere of fashion exhibitions, a kaleidoscopic exploration of his extraordinarily vast range of inspirational sources, oscillating between music, film and art, historical textile samples and iconic figures of style, alongside examples of Van Noten’s own designs. Olivier Gabet, the Director of the Musée des Les Arts Décoratifs, has commented on this fresh and dynamic approach:
“In a world saturated with pictures, names and events, there are a thousand different ways to go about exhibiting fashion. Yet the singular dimension of a museum whittles this number down to just a few of any value…[Dries Van Noten] assumes that delicate balance which implies that a fashion exhibition is much more than just a show of objets de mode…instead offering that unique moment, that totally new experience of something completely new.”
Divided into themes ranging from ‘Uniform’ to ‘Francis Bacon’, each section of the exhibition focuses upon a specific aspect of Van Noten’s diverse and vibrant creative influences, be it a certain colour, culture or aspect of nature. The opening section, entitled ‘Punk’, immediately challenges and even overthrows the visitor’s expectations and interpretations of the theme by displaying not only predictable imagery, such as 1970s photographs of the Sex Pistols, but also incorporating an original ‘New Look’ ensemble from Christian Dior’s famous 1947 collection, among other seemingly anachronistic examples from art and fashion. Elsewhere, a section devoted entirely to the theme of Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Piano exhibits surviving examples of Victorian dress alongside Marcel Broodthaers’s 1965 sculpture of a pot of mussels.
Through this unconventional approach to fashion curation Dries Van Noten and curators at the Musée des Les Arts Décoratifs present an innovative new lens through which to consider the entire ‘process’ of fashion – from the very first flicker of inspiration, to the creation of a fully-fledged museum show. Intriguing juxtapositions between old and new, masculine and feminine, the decorative and the stripped back serve to highlight the designer’s characteristic tension between tradition and modernity, thus exposing the eclectic variety that, ultimately, lends Dries Van Noten’s work its singular richness and unique place within contemporary fashion.
‘Dries Van Noten: Inspirations’ will be held at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris until 31st August, 2014.
Bruloot, G. ed. (2014), Dries Van Noten, Tielt: Lannoo.