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11.17.2016

Dries van Noten

There are some shows you can barely remember by the time you get to the next one. That’s just the pits. The majority of shows at least contain clothes and ideas (although not always both) that merit the effort to assemble some kind of sense of them -for good or ill, right or wrong. Then there are the big-house, big-production, big-budget, claque-thronged bashes that you know are going to drag you into their slipstream of hype, regardless of what's on the runway. They can be great, and they can be lame, but they will always splash. Rarest of all, though, are shows such as this one from Dries van Noten, shows that you know immediately will linger in the memory years after, thanks to the gut-punch of their impact. That's incredibly rare in fashion. So why does it rank up there ? The venue was a major factor -afterward the designer said that he had been trying to secure it for fifteen years : "Every year we applied and applied and applied, and every year they said 'no'. But then they said 'yes' !" The invitation read the Palais Garnier, that outrageous froth of Louis-Napoléon schlock-baroque in whose foyer and gallery Stella McCartney and Pigalle have both held shows before. This time, though, we had to go around the back of the building, through a heavily screened security foyer. Instead of clacking up a marble staircase framed with putti and gold, we creaked up a rough and splintery wooden one. Ushered through a small door we were suddenly on the eccentrically tilted stage of one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses. Onstage. The Garnier stage is particular. It tilts forward at an angle -ballet dancers have to reconfigure their compass to master it. The sound of them landing on that stage makes it creak so much staff say it sounds like there are rats in the woodwork below. The audience flanked left and right. The main curtain rose to reveal the serial snappers (stage front, for a deserved change) with the yawning gold and velvet eye of the auditorium behind them. They waved and we whooped. Then the curtain rose, releasing a through-draught as the building exhaled, to reveal a phalanx of models, waiting.
They came forward, circling a golden vaulted arch from Robert Carsen’s set for Strauss’s Capriccio. The show started softly, with a black wool trench delineated by a swirling curl of tricolor ribbon on the shoulder. An oversize but assiduously cut check suit, a DB jacket with that ribboning down its arm, brogue boots with Ghillie tassels, a black bomber with different colored ribboning at the waist -the buildup. Militaria advanced into the field of action : white wool shorts with some indistinct regimental regalia, worn over leggings; a black shirt molded to an olive drab skirt, back-pleated; and a great coat strafed with opaque chevrons. Then came the head-fry. Dries van Noten had recruited Wes Wilson, the graphic artist who drew the visual expression of the psychedelic West Coast at its Sixties/Seventies apex, to reconfigure his swirling menhir-like typeface and gaunt infinity-facing characters into decoration for this collection. It sucked you in, a trip. Perhaps only this venue could ever have competed with it. The psychedelic and the regimental crashed operatically into each other. Together collection and place combined in a tinglingly deep eye-massage. Afterward the Belgian designer said the venue had spoken to his ongoing interrogations : "What is reality ? What is the dream ? Where does everything start and begin ? So for me it was really good to be able to show here onstage and not in a room. It turns your world a little bit upside down". It certainly did. What a privilege to see it. Watch the video !


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