Museum Muse

Museum Muse

Dries Van Noten seems to be a designer that I somehow take for granted; someone whose collections I always assume I'll like and certainly when you see it on the rails in stores, any lukewarm feelings that you previously had almost certainly become impassioned ones.  On the surface, one might have thought that A/W 12-3 would prove challenging.  References to Qing dynasty robes reminiscent of the Chinese costume dramas that were my teenage guilty pleasure, heavy doses of Japanoiserie/Chinoiserie and gilding the cultural lily for all it's worth – these don't sound like things that might make for a Susie-friendly collection given my previous thoughts on cultural appropriation in fashion.  

All doubts were dispelled though as soon as I scrambled backstage after the show to ask Van Noten a few questions.  It turns out he took a trip to the V&A and its East Asia department, studying physical pieces as well as being assisted with books and photographs.  Such a scholarly approach might have resulted in a straight forward costume rehash/replica but in actual fact, what Van Noten did that was extremely clever was to revel in the flatness of the way these historical textiles are displayed and abstract those planes into prints that ensure that no dragon, phoenix or lotus flower look straightforward.  

The V&A is another institution I take for granted, perhaps not realising what a national cultural gem it is until you visit other museums.  Its presence as a resource for designers has resulted in a fair number of collections and items inspired by objects in the museum but this Dries Van Noten collection strikes me as one of the most intelligent ways of using the museum's artefacts, from source to process to finished product.  The V&A is in the process of moving its collection of textiles and fashion pieces over to Blythe House in Kensington Olympia which will become the new Clothworker's Centre, a facility to study, conserve and store these pieces so I was lucky enough to catch a few of the pieces that the Dries Van Noten team looked at when gathering source material for their A/W 12-3 collection.  Helen Persson, curator and manager of V&A's Chinese textiles and dress collections was kind enough to show me these pieces as well as talk a little about this new Clothworker's Centre which sounds like any fashion enthusiast's dream haven.   

In particular I looked at a 18th-19th century Chinese Qing dynasty robe that may have been made for a female member of the imperial royal family but Persson concedes that it was probably not worn by anyone as the robe was assembled at a much later date.  What's interesting is that in the collection, instead of the obvious dragons and imperial yellow that leaps out at you from the original robe, it is the striped wave motif at the hem of the robe that is predominantly used as the base pattern, spliced with khaki and black in the tailored coats and trousers.  In the silk shirt and skirt pieces it's the the way the pattern is cut up, repeated and blanked out in unexpected areas which means that the original context of the robe is pleasingly misplaced.  Weirdly, it was a good thing that the Dries team didn't see these garments on a mannequin or a dummy (as you would in say a traditional fashion exhibition) because when they are laid flat or seen in aerial view photographs, they take on a completely different appearance and it's precisely that flatness that gives Van Noten the license and encouragement to arrange the prints on his garments in this abstracted way.











Japanese jacket from the early 20th century is similarly given the same treatment and even though the print is reproduced like for like as per the original, its placement on a sleek white blazer or wide legged trousers isolate the pattern from its roots.  Without even seeing the curator you can already glean a ton of information from the online database, an incredible resource for those not in London.  The pattern on the jacket was created with a "tsutsugaki" technique where the pattern is drawn out using a special paste made of rice flour, lime and water, squeezed from a paper tube treated with persimmon juice, creating a protective coating on the patte







 The pattern on these Chinoiserie phoenix and lotus pieces are taken from this Kesi tapestry woven paneland from a huge blanket made in the 18th century, meant for export to the West.  The original piece was already a mish mash of cultures as Chinese motifs mixed with Indian ones as it was meant for a Western taste palate and so when reproduced in the Dries pieces, it takes on another layer of orientalist affirmation.  In the end, whilst Dries Van Noten openly credit the sources of the collection's inspiration, it's almost not important to cite the exact source of every pattern as they have shifted the context so far and away from simplistic replica or pastiche.   






Persson is pictured here on the right with Anna Jackson, keeper of Japanese textiles and dress on the left, endearingly showing her support and love of the collection by wearing a printed shirt.  Apparently they both spent a long time picking out pieces from the Dries Van Noten concession in Selfridges.  


I too haven't escaped from the collection's clutches as the Dries Van Noten store in Paris (one of the loveliest spaces of a mono-brand store EVER) lured me in during the shows and I bought these printed wool trousers, that emphasise the striped wave motif of those Qing robes.  LN-CC, Far Fetch and Browns seem to have the best Dries selection online at the moment if you too are seized by this excellent example of museum-to-garment mastery.  

Going back to pending opening of V&A's The Clothworker's Centre at Blythe House, it feels like an exciting prospect to have a facility like this at the disposal of designers, students or enthusiasts in or visiting London.  It's due to open in late 2013 and is definitely a must-see for anyone planning a trip to London anytime soon.  Even the name is appealing.  Clothworker's.  Not fashion.  Not textiles.  Not design.  It sounds a place worthy of studying garments that have had a lot of graft, craft and thought put into them.  Blythe House itself is a beautiful Grade II listed building and with V&A intending to offer extended and increased access to the collections, it sounds like I'll be wiling many an hour here when it opens.  

Phil Oh for

Le 21ème | Adam Katz Sinding


Leave a comment
  1. Patricia Brand

    2012-11-13 at 5:07 PM

    I love the style of Dries, and I did a post with his oriental mood collection!
    Came and see!!

  2. Liz

    2012-11-13 at 5:19 PM

    love! such great patterns!!

  3. Andrew

    2012-11-13 at 5:29 PM

    I am absolutely going through a very obsessive Dries period at the moment.

  4. Dip It Black

    2012-11-13 at 6:35 PM

    Absolutely gorgeous! Love the patterns!
    Always enjoy reading your posts so much!

  5. Mikapoka

    2012-11-13 at 10:14 PM

    Wow, what a post: amazing mishmashes & patterns.
    ‘Clothworkers’ sounds quite good, though.

  6. Jude

    2012-11-14 at 6:22 AM

    what a great post! thank you for going in such details on his collection this season. He continues to surprise me year after year.

  7. Vani

    2012-11-14 at 7:19 AM

    Your posts are always so interesting and inspirational. That’s why I love reading your blog!
    Trend Anatomy

  8. Lynkez

    2012-11-14 at 8:09 AM

    Colorful as a rainbow! Style Bubble you realy never cease to amaze with your fashion trends. This is very interesting.

  9. The Provoker

    2012-11-14 at 9:01 AM

    Yes it’s really been big for Dries this season, everyone’s still talking about the oriental prints, I’m so looking forward already for AW13’s prints from them, pls dont let me down. Also, love how the last two shots the model carried her DSLR in a what-I-assume-is-a candy furla bag? So cute wtha ll the invites in them as well (possible new adaption from putting invites in a chris kane jelly clutch?)

  10. Katherine Steven

    2012-11-14 at 12:59 PM

    Great post with lovely ideas! during this winter wear cool color outfit and carry colorful canvas totebag to look smart and casual!

  11. Thestylistdb

    2012-11-14 at 1:44 PM

    Fantastic post, pics and explanation….Keep up the great work Susie.

  12. Jay

    2012-11-14 at 6:22 PM

    Wait, but what is the rest of your outfit with the yellow grid and fluffy black volume?

  13. Devon

    2012-11-14 at 8:13 PM

    Really liked this post – It’s always interesting to go ‘back to the source’ of a designer’s inspiration and see what they’ve taken directly and what they’ve changed in order to incorporate it into their aesthetic for the brand and collection.
    The V&A is one of my all-time favourite museums – I still swoon over the Westwood exhibition from years ago (the only time I’ve ever been sorely tempted to actually touch something on display in a museum! So sumptuous!)

  14. Tara

    2012-11-14 at 8:34 PM

    Though I couldn’t tell instantly that the above collection was a Dries Van Noten, as a frequent visitor of the V&A – not only is it a truly wonderful museum filled with inspiring art and artefacts, but the on-site Cafe makes the scrummiest apricot croissants (!) – it did occur to me almost instantly that the prints in said collection are not entirely dissimilar to the patterns one would find when exploring the main Oriental art rooms (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) in the V&A, but with a touch of William Morris. On paper – as was said – this should not work, but it is evident that a lot of care and careful research has been put in to make it work as well as it has.
    Best Wishes,

  15. susie_bubble

    2012-11-15 at 6:41 PM

    The jumper is by Martina Spetlova, another designer I’ll be highlighting soon enough! It’s quite a crazy knit piece and a little impractical but then again, when has that ever stopped me?

  16. Stella

    2012-11-16 at 12:19 PM

    Appreciated these styles and patterns for winters.

  17. 3tGOV

    2012-11-16 at 10:58 PM

    Welcome to my Blog,You can look more Chinese movie.

  18. Lisa Tedeschi

    2012-11-17 at 5:28 PM

    Style much simple, and i really like it. Thanks for posting this one.really cool stuffs for winters

  19. Get Instagram Followers

    2012-11-19 at 10:16 AM

    Hai,This is bobbie , and new to this stuff. Am excited about the fashion tech information which is given by you, really very informative thanks for sharing..and i can’t get it that how i missed this bolg.keep sharing.
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  20. Petra

    2013-02-14 at 10:26 AM

    Hi, as a museum curator working in Sweden with the start of a huge project about fashion (both “old” and new), I found your post highly informative. Thank you so much! We will discuss aspects of orientalism in our exhibitions (four in all are planned at the National Museums of World Culture).
    Thanks again and I´ll continue to explore Style bubble!

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