Dries Van Noten’s Forward Motion

mars 3, 2021

Dries Van Noten created a film in Antwerp to illustrate his Fall/Winter 2021 womenswear collection. Fashion films are as standard—in this era—as runway shows, yet in Van Noten and director Casper Sejersen’s hands’, the medium finds catalyzing, coruscating and a sort of hyper-cognizant new spirit. 

Set against a black backdrop, symbolic of the miles-long shadows that have been cast over the past year, Van Noten’s vignette opens with the brooding beats of the song “Angel” by Massive Attack. To this writer, there are acoustic echoes of Clint Mansell’s now legendary score for the 2000 movie Requiem for a Dream, which also feels appropriate; It’s this suggestion that sound and music may acknowledge the demise of earlier fantasies and prior ways of being. Yet in the wake of this realization, there is a sensation of energy—an especially pure energy—in starting afresh. Van Noten implies this heavily in his clip. 

As “Angel” crescendos to its peak, Van Noten’s cast of dancers and models perform—some beautifully, some jaggedly, some imperfectly. Put most simply, watching the film is a bit like observing fashion begin to emerge from atrophy (this is not to say that Van Noten’s other COVID-19 collections have been lifeless; Spring/Summer 2021 was masterfully, optimistically shot by the Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen). But the metaphor is crisper now: Van Noten looked to movement, music and motion to capture his own sort of outlook for the future. Which, let’s say, is increasingly optimistic. 

“I’ve been spoiled by the past,” he says over a Zoom interview. “Now, we’ve started to see the impact that small things and small gestures can have. And that is a good thing. You don’t always need the full orchestra. Maybe one instrument can do and make something just as effective.”

Below, Van Noten answers a few questions on a return to emotion, a return to glamour, and, hopefully, a return to his beloved coastal Italian vacation home when conditions permit.

In your words, please describe your Fall/Winter 2021 womenswear collection.

We really started to think along the lines of emotion. Emotion and movement. Because positive emotion is what we are still missing in these COVID times. We aren’t getting that personal, interactive hit. We are not going to theaters to see ballets, operas, and movies. We can’t even really embrace people. You can’t share something really close with someone over Zoom. So, it was an important thing to say, OK, let’s make a collection that’s mostly about the translation of emotion. Specifically we looked to Pina Bausch, and to Belgium’s contemporary dance scene. 

How did you incorporate that particular element?

Once we had this key, this direct inspiration for the collection and the film, we wanted to focus on mostly what you would consider to be the big gestures. The motivation behind a dance, and behind a garment. And a big gesture can be in your face, so through this, there are symbols of glamour. There’s super-drapes high-shine satin. There are tinsel coats. There are rose prints. So yeah, I think this ended up being a glamorous collection.

What is something that you have permanently adapted over the past year, in terms of your work and practice? What won’t you return to?

It’s very difficult to predict what the future is going to look like for fashion. But, I think we have to continue to be rid of the clutter of unnecessary things. This is what I believe. It’s something that’s manifested in this collection. Maybe it’s a bit more raw, a little bit more direct, and in a way, it’s going back to an essence.

A return to form and fundamentality?

It’s more like this—I think the strength of this collection is that every piece plays its role in its presentation, in the video. We learned a lot from hiring not only models but dancers. We are discovering that with implementing mediums that we hadn’t in the past, you can add more emotion, you can express your creativity in a broader way. There was something missing in how we did it with the previous collection, even though they were fantastic pictures. I think now we’ve found that extra layer of emotion, which is what we may have been missing for a long while. 

What will you do when you can get away and take a break? It feels all the more exciting and pressing, and necessary… 

The break is just going to be heading back to our house in Italy, which we haven’t seen now for, I think, eight months or so. It’s this really old place, which is neat, and it’s the best place to go to forget everything, and to finally read a book.

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