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Dries Van Noten: Francis Bacon On a Baltic Cruise

Godfrey Deeny
March 08th, 2009 @ 3:48 PM - Paris

Francis Bacon sounds a tiny bit unlikely as a source of inspiration for a fashion collection, but filtered through the canny brain of Dries Van Noten, staged Sunday, March 8 in Paris, the result was a chic and sophisticated collection, albeit one more suited for a Baltic cruise than a backstreet art gallery opening.

Bacon got ideas from the magazines, images, art books and postcards that littered his legendarily messy studio, incorporating them into his disturbing figurative works.

In preparing this fall 2009 collection, Van Noten’s staff crumpled, bent and twisted images and materials, then photographed the results, mixing the fabrics throughout the show. Even the invite was a folded card with distorted script.

“Francis Bacon and the way he destroyed and connected things, creating something new and stronger,” was Van Noten’s explanation of his starting point for this collection.

But where Bacon’s figures were generally grotesque, Van Noten’s were generally beautiful. Van Noten established his reputation with masterly use of prints and a sense of bohemian exoticness. But his last few shows have shown a designer maturing into a more sophisticated soul and one who keeps the prints in check. Frequently the only florals in a look for fall 2009 were the Baconized trompe l’oeil flowers on cloth covered high heels. Yet his monochromatic pagoda shouldered double-breasted pink mannish jackets, his pinched at the waist machine green cardigan jackets and his mid length “mixed-media” skirts had plenty of excitement in their very understated purity.

Bacon used stuff like gouache, pastel, oils and pen and ink on paper, board and canvas in his art; Van Noten played with satin crepes, silk velvet (the fabric of this season), alpaca and, according to his program notes, “fake plasticized snake print, woven ‘Couture’ croc and....silk ruffles as fur.”

One had to appreciate the elegant staging, where just placing a huge tilted Kevlar mirror at the beginning of the runway created the neat effect of magnifying each look as it first appeared, or an excellent soundtrack that morphed back and forth between the serial music of Steve Reich and the theatricality of Laurie Anderson.

Irish-born Bacon frequently painted triptychs and used to say he saw things “in series,” an apt parallel with most shows that are a series of ideas imbued into clothes.

But, let’s not extend the analogy too far. Where Van Noten’s Antwerp headquarters are as ship-shape as an admiral’s cabin; Bacon’s studio, lovingly installed for posterity in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery is one of the scruffiest dumps on the planet.

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