PARIS, September 28, 2011
ByDries Van Noten came across James Reeve's work in 2010 when he was president of the jury at the fashion festival in Hyères. The young English photographer was summoned to Antwerp, and his subsequent collaboration with the designer yielded the night-scape prints that shaped the second half of today's collection. Because they weren't particularly fashion-y, Van Noten felt he needed the counterbalance of hyper-fashion silhouettes from Italian and Spanish haute couture of the 1950's. The boleros, the swingbacks, the sacks, ruffles, and bows, and the skirts with a structured flamenco flare inevitably suggested Cristobal Balenciaga, the greatest Spanish couturier of them all. It's that kind of research and informed reflection that makes a Dries show like a visit to a glamorous library, simultaneously academic and seductive. Much like the KLF's multi-sampling Chill Out album, which provided a suitably wide-ranging aural counterpart today.
Reeve and Balenciaga—just one of the subtle oppositions that determined the character of the collection. Black and white, night and day, natural and artificial were some of the others. Van Noten collaged prints from seventeenth-century botanical etchings, jungle scenes, and seascapes onto decorous couture shapes, which he rendered in fabrics that were resolutely ready-to-wear. The contrast was often winning—and even better when the designer got around to Reeve. Aside from an incongruously literal Vegas reference, Reeve's almost-abstractions looked like scatterings of colored crystals. Van Noten literalized the notion when he decorated one skirt with actual stones to replicate the lights in Reeve's photo of a building in Marseille. In every Dries collection, there is at least one master illusion. This one was up there with the best.