Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten unveiled his retrospective at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris this month. Echoing his globe-trotting, luxe-bohemian aesthetic, the exhibition is an exploration of Van Noten’s myriad cultural references and most intimate inspirations, highlighting his genius for twisting convention with idiosyncratic flair. To wit: As a member of the lauded “Antwerp Six” in 1986, Van Noten’s menswear collection was bought by Barneys New York and sold as womenswear. His collections that followed also evinced a cerebral interplay of masculine and feminine in disparate yet painfully chic textile pairings (florals, lace, devoré, and gold bullion for men; grunge demi-couture; gray flannel with Ginger Rogers-esque ostrich feathers). In the ’90s and 2000s, Dries streamlined his silhouettes with Indian, African, and Central Asian influences—slinky, sheer tanks and sarongs worn over slim trousers, and oversize toppers with obi belts in bold patterns and tertiary hues. Also on display are inspirations, including iconic pre- and postwar couture garments from Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior, as well as Elizabeth Peyton’s 2001 painting Democrats are more beautiful, which inspired Van Noten’s SS09 menswear collection’s palette-cleansing sea of cool blue jackets and tailored pajama-like suits.
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