The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp has more than its share of notable alumni, including Vincent van Gogh, but it is best known for a group of students who attended the institute for Fashion Design and all went on to start critically acclaimed labels. “The Antwerp Six” included renowned names like Dirk Bikkembergs and Ann Demeulemeester. Among them was a young Dries Van Noten,
The Antwerp Six are often praised for their stylistic differences, and Van Noten’s style has stood out to many as the most eccentric of the group. From his gratuitous use of layering to his implementation of loud and creative patterns, the designer’s aesthetic is one that never blends in with the crowd.
For this season, Van Noten has expressed that eccentricity in a psychedelic theme. The garments are mostly military-inspired, with olive drab and tan hues ruling the collection. Accents like epaulets and patches reinforce the look, but get a refreshing twist with colorful, swirling patterns and graphics. Van Noten doesn’t try to downplay the designs, either. A shirt from the collection has more pattern on its surface than plain fabric, with a large patch on both arms and a text-based image covering most of the back panel.
In a time when fashion is becoming more and more celebrity-driven and community-driven, designers and fashion houses are fading away from the public eye. Many fashion lovers are fed up with the industry at large, expressing annoyance at what they see as a constant recycling of themes and general pretentiousness and turning to a model that seems somehow more organic. Van Noten’s collection, though, is a reminder that there are established designers who continue to push the envelope decades into their careers.
While military and psychedelic themes have certainly been used in the past (and perhaps overused), Van Noten explore the entirety of each and combines them in a way that does justice to both, creating unique looks that each are reminiscent of specific moments in time. The combination of the colorful, swirling patterns and the pocketed, utilitarian styling on the aforementioned shirt conjures images of the 1970s and the Vietnam War. On the other hand, this long coat with brass buttons channels a much earlier wartime era on some European front—the faded chevrons, when looked at from afar, resemble an old, patterned wallpaper. At the same time, the shearling collar is another symbol of 1970s fashion, and in this way the garment bridges two historical periods seamlessly.
Nowadays, the barriers to entry in fashion and other design fields are so much smaller than they used to be, it is tempting to dismiss design as something easy, mundane, or undeserving of intense scrutiny. Many believe that the value of a degree in one of these fields is no longer meaningful. Dries Van Noten proves this notion incorrect—in his designs, it is easy to see the wide range of influences and references, as well as the eye for composition that blends those, that he developed at the Royal Academy. These are products not only of passion, but also of obsessive study, and perhaps the world should be reminded of that.
Are you a fan of Dries Van Noten’s designs for ready-to-wear or for celebrities like Cate Blanchett? Let’s talk here or on Twitter @BillChangNY