what becomes an icon most? dries van noten and maison margiela at paris fashion week
Iconic. A term that makes merchandisers rejoice and fashion writers cringe all at once, it has long suffered the degradation of overuse. A Google definition search will tell you the word is also used to describe Greek statues "depicting a victorious athlete in a conventional style." You could interpret that as the requirement for icon status: your appeal must be broad, relatable, and above all, unifying. It's been 25 years since Dries Van Noten presented his first show in 1992, five years into the brand he founded in 1986. Last month at menswear, he celebrated his 99th show in one of his first venues, a tunnel in Porte de Versailles, bringing back his trademark Belgian oversized coats from the 90s, which the Instagram labels are now calling their own. Wednesday in Paris marked his 100th show, an incredible achievement for a designer, who's maintained his independence for more than thirty years. Van Noten is the paragon of integrity, worldly views and manners in tow. He's become one of fashion's most successful designers, yet he's never advertised or paid for an advertorial in a magazine. Fashion loves Dries for Dries, and not many brands can say that.
For his 50th show in 2004, Van Noten staged a majestic banquet where models walked on a table with chandeliers rustling above their heads. "With everything that's happened in fashion after the fashion show became bigger and bigger, I really didn't feel like doing something like that," he said over the phone on Monday, two days before his show centennial. "I wanted to go back to the essence of the fashion show, which is people sitting on a chair in a simple room looking a beautiful women walking by in a nice outfit." For Van Noten, the celebration had to feel personal: a reflection of the past and the future. And what could be more personal than the faces associated with his brand through a hundred show's worth of history? Starting last October, his casting agent Piergiorgio Del Moro set out to track down the models most connected to Van Noten's shows. Along with his team, he trawled through social media accounts, friends of friends, and the agents of the women still in the business, locating Van Noten's favorite models and offering to fly them in to walk the show. "Not a single one said no," Del Moro noted after the show.
To a soundtrack patchworked from Dries Van Noten shows through the years, a women's march of familiar faces trotted his sacred runway grounds in an unassuming bunker in Bercy. Kristina de Conninck, who opened his first women's show in 1992, opened this one, too, occasionally looking down at her gauping spectators with an expression of equal parts delight and amusement. Then came Alek Wek, Amber Valetta, Carolyn Murphy, Tasha Tilberg, Guinevere van Seenus, Hannelore Knuts, Anne Catherine Lacroix, and the awesome Nadja Auermann, whose handsome femininity very much represents the distinct look of some of the women who work for Van Noten in Antwerp. "In the fittings you see people you haven't seen for twenty years," he said on Monday while preparations where still underway. "On the other hand, when I see the whole thing together it's really now — it's not soaking in nostalgia. I hope you get the balance, that it's looking to the future and taking those prints with me as a kind of luggage to go into the future." That sentiment was backed up by the appearance of current top girls such as Mika Argañaraz and Julia Nobis.
Van Noten — who has worked with his stylist, Nancy Rhode, for some sixteen years — chose his favorite prints from the archives for the collection, re-appropriating them within his own oversized, masculine silhouette he started rediscovering in his last men's collection. "We took a lot of prints from the archives, which have become iconic for us, and gave them a very contemporary treatment. We overprinted them with bright-colored graphic motifs," he said. And there it was, that word — iconic. For Van Noten its use was personal — these prints are iconic to his own history — but to the rest of us, to fashion, this collection and the show that framed it had all the components that status requires: a unifying spirit of inclusiveness, happiness, and shared history. Memories made between a designer and his industry, and a fellow excitement for more to come. "That's it," i-D's Fashion Director Alastair McKimm said as Van Noten's women of all ages, races, and prints marched towards us for the finale. "Dries is officially an icon."
Last week, director Reiner Holzemer released the trailer for the documentary he's been filming on Van Noten over the last year. "It's a little bit scary — a little bit more than scary — to see the way I work, my personal life, and everything on the big screen," he said on the phone. "But the moment we started filming, I said, Okay Reiner, you do it — I don't want to have a hand in it," Van Noten explained. "He shows a lot. It's his vision of me, and his portrait." For the notoriously private designer, who has only ever allowed a few pictures to be released from the home he shares with Patrick Vangheleuwe and their beloved Airedale terrier Harry — an early 20th century manor house inspired by Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon, which sits on a seven-acre plot of land outside Antwerp — the film marks another momentous chapter in his career: the part of the life of any great talent when their legend is no longer solely related to their professional achievements, but to their private persona as well. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call an icon.
Between the elusive fashion legend that is Maison Margiela and the illustrious superstar of John Galliano, the combination of the two isn't short on iconic makings. "Iconography is founded in collective emotions created by the mutual memories which unite us and give us hope," the house stated on Wednesday morning as Galliano presented his fall/winter 17 collection. Employing the decortiqué technique he debuted at last month's haute couture show — a sort of deboning of garments to their core structure — the designer reduced classic wardrobe pieces such as the varsity jacket and the trench coat to a decorticated memory of their intact state. He layered these skeletons over other icons such as the tweed skirt suit, effectively deconstructing wardrobe staples and outfits only to then reconstruct them into something new. It was a game of references: pieces styled together to create new meaning somehow recognizable and relatable to all.
It was the reassuring familiarity of a 50s denim trouser and oversized polo neck, or the almost ancient, tribal resonance of a jacket in tweed and latex with decoupage sleeves, styled with a decorticated skirt in black and nude and a decorticated dress in yellow fluo, worn with a shearling bag on the head, a check bag over the shoulder and a rucksack on the back. Put together, those elements brought to life something universally relatable — and in that transition, something unifying to all. The Maison Margiela collection was about the fellowship found in mutual ideals, and in these times, we could all do with some healthy icons to aspire to.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams