reloaded and re-inspired, dries van noten launches his new inspirations in antwerp

This weekend, i-D went to Antwerp for Dries Van Noten’s opening of the second leg of his Inspirations exhibition at MoMu, and spoke to the Belgian designer about the reinvention of the show that took Paris by storm by last year.

by Anders Christian Madsen
16 February 2015, 2:50pm

It's been a year now since Dries Van Noten opened Inspirations, his epic exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, which didn't just cement his status as one of the most prolific and progressive designers our of time, but catapulted his work into an even brighter spotlight and a new era. This weekend in his native Antwerp, Van Noten opened the second leg of Inspirations at MoMu, a project that gave him a chance to reinvent major elements of the exhibition and reflect on the significance the show has had in career over the past year.

"It's not possible for me to imagine what my collections would have looked like if I hadn't gone through the exhibition," he tells i-D. "The collections are coming out in a very spontaneous way. I try not to think too much about it and I don't try to dissect too much my ideas." It's the kind of attraction of inspirations that the show is all about. Van Noten is enthralled with art - ancient to contemporary - and allows it to feed into his on a spur-of-the-moment basis. It's not about trends, but about his gut feeling, which just happened to be superbly finely tuned for the what's going on in the world.

The changes made to exhibition for its Antwerp run were originally sparked by the fact that a number of the works and garments Van Noten used in Paris either weren't allowed to travel (such as the Bronzino painting of a young man) or had to go back into hibernation so they wouldn't be exposed to too much light (such as the Schiaparelli butterfly dress). It made Van Noten dig deeper into his bank of inspirations, and eventually replace certain themes with new ones, for instance a A Midsummer Night's Dream room featuring a Ryan McGinley photograph and a Giuseppi Penoni sculpture exhibited alongside his spring/summer 15 women's collection.

"Some themes like the uniforms theme we had in Paris with the Borremans painting, now for instance you're going to see a beautiful Mark Rothko painting - a huge one from the Bojimans Van Beuningen - which we confront with a Tissot painting from the National Portrait Gallery. So we do our mixtures that we did in the past, but now in a completely different way," Van Noten explains. In preparation for the exhibition and the hugely valuable works on display - Yves Klein, Damien Hirst, Cecily Brown, Pol Bury, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and James Tissot to name a few - MoMu had to do extensive rebuilding to allow for security features.

"Some people thought it wasn't didactic enough, but I didn't want to make it didactic," Van Noten says, referring to the feedback he got from the Paris exhibition, which ended up being extended for months due to high demand. "It was the idea of showing inspiration, but I don't think it's my role to show people how garments are made. Sometimes people wanted to touch the fabrics and they thought the fact that everything was behind glass made it sort of static. But unfortunately you can't do things that people can touch because garments are very difficult to do conservation with. They are very, very fragile."

In Paris, he had dreamed of adding sounds and smells to each room, something that wasn't possible within the hallowed walls of the Louvre's Rohan wing. "Here in Antwerp we can bring in smell, but music was not possible. I would love that you would hear the music when you look at the collection, because music is one my major inspiration, but unfortunately, with the guards, you can't have music playing out loud. They say if you have to listen to the same two minutes of music all day you go crazy," Van Noten sighs. Instead, scented walls have been installed at the Antwerp exhibition, adding yet another dimension of the designer's universe of inspirations.

"I kept all the molecules hoping that it could potentially work in Antwerp," says Sissel Tolaas, the Berlin-based scent expert and Doctor of Chemistry, who made the fragranced walls come to life for the exhibition. "I looked into the different aspects of Dries' work: his passion for gardening, his passion for nature, and life. I thought it was sad that the sense of smell wasn't triggered more because his work is so sensory. So I reproduced the smell of earth moving into garden and different aspects of air," Tolaas explains. Her third installation is the smell of dancers' bodies, used to scent the designer's spring/summer 15 men's collection based on Rudolf Nureyev.

Rather than mimicking its Parisian predecessor, Van Noten has tackled the second leg of Inspirations almost like a new exhibition, reflecting the forever-evolving nature of his work. Even the coffee table book first released for the Paris exhibition, which is now going into its fourth print run, is being updated - and will keep being updated for future editions - with the new collections Van Noten adds to his archive four times a year. And while this designer isn't one to easily cue the violins and shed a nostalgic tear about his own accomplishments, he admits the completion of the first leg of the exhibition was something of moment.

"Okay, you know what you did has some value, and you see your whole archive, which you usually see in black bags, suddenly standing there behind glass. That was a kind of a shocking moment for me," Van Noten says. "Then, of course, you see these art pieces that belong in museums next to my pieces and you're like, 'Oh my God. It was really right'."

Dries Van Noten Inspirations runs at ModeMuseum Antwerp 13 February to 19 July.


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Boy-Kortekaa

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