For spring/summer 16, Dries Van Noten went where few designers dare to go, transforming the clichés of fashion into the magnificent and surreal.
Irreverence in fashion design is a peculiar thing. Does it mean your show is a political statement? That you go against the establishment? That your runway is violently or sexually graphic? That you tackle 'ugly' in a subversive and ironic way? Tick those boxes and you get the stamp of 'cool': you're 'fearless', for your rebellious spirit and devil-may-care approach. But in an industry terrified of not being cool or fearless enough, the real punks are those, who approach the uncool and the clichéd with respect, without irony or hipster pretence, and make it truly beautiful. It doesn't get much more fearless than that.
"I really wanted to do something with archetypal things for menswear," Dries Van Noten told i-D after his spring/summer 16 men's show, which opened with a model marching down his epic warehouse runway in a Marilyn Monroe t-shirt to Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender. If it sounds a little bit shocking, the point was made. "When you think about archetypes in menswear, it's a palm tree print, it's a Hawaiian print, it's a leopard print, it's a paisley: all these clichés. And when we started to think about t-shirts, we automatically arrived at the t-shirts with Marilyn Monroe. That's when we decided, okay, we have to push this further."
And so, it didn't stop at the kind of basic Marilyn Monroe t-shirt you'll find in a London second-hand store. It went on, in Marilyn Monroe photo prints on tailoring, tops and shorts, and on and on and on, until you'd somehow accepted the idea of this foreign element in the world of Dries Van Noten. He proceeded to introduce all those cliché prints he mentioned, but instead of playing on their typical tackiness he made them dark and beautiful, really beautiful, like ancient tapestry and baroque prints. And because he can't help himself, he covered half of it in rich embellishment on top.
It couldn't have gone harder against the grain of the fashion cool rules, but there was an honesty and intelligence about it that made it anything but tacky. Dries, of course, pushed it even further. He put Monroe on the sound system, followed by the voices of the people, who made up the second part of his most multifaceted collection to date. "The first idea was something very Dada, something very surreal: a meeting between Marilyn Monroe and Dalí," he said. It inspired a surrealist streak, which travelled from Dada to Dutch surrealism and ended up at Schiaparelli, whose lobsters made an appearance in embellishment on tops.
"So little by little, the whole collection came together: a little bit of John Lydon, Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd, that whole atmosphere. I think Dalí was really a punk, and I think that's what made the connection to punk and John Lydon," Dries noted. Lydon was there not only in the Kid Koala mixed soundtrack - which also featured the voice of Dalí, next to Monroe - but in the collection's sense of the punk-rocker's wardrobe, that glam jacket with bird embellishment or the leopard coat.
For Van Noten, who will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of his men's line in 2016 but hasn't planned anything yet ("every year is an anniversary," he quipped), the collection felt both nostalgic and irreverent. The inclusion of the Presley song was a nod to the soundtrack of his first womenswear show in 93, and Monroe has had her musical cameo in the past, too. As for the fearlessness, it was there in the I'll-do-whatever-I-damn-well-please spirit of a collection, which must have looked mad on paper but somehow ended up working magnificently in the flesh. It was superb, uncool, fabulous punk, from the mind of one of the naturally coolest men in fashion.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans