Dreaming. I’m going to say it in a small voice. We don’t get to do enough of that D word in fashion these days. Celine/Balenciaga-isms, faux-minimalism and the all important bottom line sums up the bulk of the mainstream fashion landscape. Sure there’s quirkiness, there’s modernism and of coursethere’s an abundant of choice. But few have the scale, the vision and the conviction to make people really feel like they’ve been struck by a devastatingly moving moment where beauty for beauty’s sake strikes you down. Beauty for beauty’s sake is a theme we have been seeing emerging this season as we seek the uncomplicated, the pretty in a cocoon of loveliness. That can feel like it’s just surface-level stuff. Those that are masters of beauty know how to go beyond the surface.
Leading the charge is Dries van Noten, and as exemplified by the brilliant “Inspirations” exhibition, which just finished up at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (moving on to Antwerp’s MOMU next year), his rich layers of referencing have often begotten many a dream, from which you emerge with a slightly disorientating feeling of giddiness – a fashion high. A feeling that you had drunk too much beauty in. That’s what I felt like anyway when I came out of the SS15 show.
If he were to construct a section devoted to this particular SS15 collection at an exhibition, John Everett Millais’s Ophelia painting, examples from the arts and craft movement,which rejected industrialism and went back to the beauty of nature, the pre-Raphaelites, Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream and girls swaying with complete abandon at late 60s to 70s festivals like Woodstock and Stone Henge Free would all be there. And so it was that a perfect melange of Titania, 1969’s summer of love and Mother Nature itself worked their magical way into the fabrics. Van Noten described it not as a collection but “just a lot of nice clothes in nice fabrics.” Nice doesn’t quite cut it. That bit of self-deprecation makes it sound dull. It was more than just “nice”.
The show opened with nothing but silence of the countryside – as in birds gently chirping away, the faint noise of trees swaying in the wind and the quiet hub of flora and fauna. And of course the snap of the camera. The models walked down a beautiful tapestry forest floor, created by Argentinian artist Alexandra Kehayoglou (there’s a wonderful making-of video on van Noten’s website), quietly padding away and seducing you in striped silks, lush paisleys and geometric skates, mirrored embroidery that was anything but hippy dippy and sheer organzas dusted with metallic powder. Van Noten balances print, texture and colour so well, it’s almost a second nature to him. That was half the magic of the collection that the clothes looked so desirable and as the pulse of the Oscar and the Wolf track, “Strange Entity” built up and we heard the singer intoning, “I’ll take good care of you” it was as if the collection was calling out to you.
When van Noten talked about festivals, the default image in your head is the gurgle of “What so-and-so wore at Coachella” and the drivel of banal festival fashion that pops up on the high street every year. This was about as far and away from that category of festival attire as you could possibly get. Nuanced, observant of surroundings, and beautiful as opposed to attention-grabbing – if only festival gear could reach the high echelons that Dries did.
You’ve probably heard and read about that simple yet supremely effective finale gesture where instead of marching down the runway like drones, the models in a sweeping cascade proceeded to sit or lie down on that lush tapestry. No contrived performances. No theatrics. Just a simple physical movement of the body. We were then invited to go and be at one with those fabrics and nature. We were inside a darkened space of the Grand Palais but for a split second, you could feel the expanse of a meadow. You could smell the grass. You could touch the wet moss. If you weren’t seduced by this display, then as the soundtrack continued to sing, “you’re heartless”.