Inspiration finds its way into our thinking by both conventional and serendipitous means; after reading a novel such as Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the dualism between the beautiful and the savage in nature.
This week, we went to the Dries van Noten: Inspirations exhibition at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris where we had the chance to delve into the designer’s mind to see how the things that inspire him translate into his collections.
For Dries van Noten, inspiration often strikes through the influence of visual artists, film and cultural objects that resonated with him.
Francis Bacon was an influential inspiration for Dries van Noten in 2009. At the exhibition, menswear stood alongside a portrait by Bacon, but van Noten’s fall 2009 RTW collection for women better demonstrates the link between the garments, the manipulation of fabric and Bacon’s oeuvre a little more clearly.
The colour palette, textures and asymmetrical lines of the prints and the textiles all speak to the sombre, unnerving nature of Bacon’s works. A direct translation of the colour and structural lines of the abstracted furniture upon which Pope Innocent X sits in the first example can be seen drawn across the body, as well as the violet slashes mimicking the Pope’s purple capelet.
The line formed by the seated figure and his shadow in the last example can be seen as an abstracted silhouette across the top in the fourth example. It’s interesting to note that the paintings that seem to be the closest representation of Drien van Noten’s inspiration from Bacon all feature human figures in some way.
Bacon was prolific in his ability to create visceral representations of fear and anxiety that instilled an uneasiness in the viewer to encourage them to delve into themselves and confront their own mortality. Although van Noten doesn’t aim to confront his viewers in the same way, the movement of the garments on the body brings to life an echo of the movement of bodies depicted in Bacon’s works.
These themes of fragility and death also played an integral role in the artistic development of another of van Noten’s inpirations, Damien Hirst.
If we look at, Hirst’s arguably most famous work The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (pictured below) we can see the inherent fear discussed by Bacon instilled in this work, that of death looming forever under the surface and our inability to come to terms with the inevitability of mortality. But conversely, we can also see our desire to visibly capture and imprison death so it can be be monitored and suspended forever to stave off our fears.
For van Noten, Hirst poses as an interesting source of inspiration by way of the motifs he adopted. In the exhibition, van Noten displayed Hirst’s Rapture from the Kaleidoscope series as as well as a Shiaparelli gown that sat alongside the work. Naturally, the butterfly’s short life-span and fragile body speak to the same themes of fear, death and inevitability, but they’re veiled in vibrant colours, evocative of spring, new life and the ability to fly and be free.
Here we can see the butterfly motif repeated in the Schiaparelli garment as a print that sits close to the body, underneath a black netted shroud. Although the more sparse use of the motif in Schiaparelli’s design appears more lively and free than the claustrophobic barrage of butterflies in Hirst’s work, the message of fragility and cruelty still translates.
The butterflies in Schiaparelli’s design are captured or perhaps protected by the netting that surrounds them in a similar way that fear is captured and we are, perhaps, protected from it in The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.
Hirst and Bacon both want to force us to confront grand truths about being human, while van Noten takes these inspirations and translates them into a softer, wearable medium that still evokes the same essence of the work.
Below we can see a selection of van Noten’s garments which share a similar colour story to Hirst’s Rapture and deal with similar themes, translated by van Noten’s perspective through the use of fragile kite-like wings to evoke the fragility and fleeting beauty of youth.
This theme of nature and fragility continues with another of van Noten’s inspirations, the French Artist Hubert Duprat, who creates an environment in which the larvae of caddis flies construct protective tubes around their body with gold and precious stones.
The caddis larvae usually create their protective housing from gravel and bark, held together with a silk they produce. By removing the usual materials used by the larvae and replacing them with gold pieces, the caddis are forced to create their tubes from the metal.
The miniature tubes constructed by the larvae are works of art in their own right, designed to shelter and protect the vulnerable insects from the outside world. By forcing the larvae to replace their building materials, their functional housing takes on new meaning - the connection between luxury and function intersects in the same way that beautiful architecture, fashion or armour serves a protective purpose while serving as a beautiful object.
Dries van Noten exhibited a number of armour-like garments made from beading and fur throughout the exhibition which continue this theme of protecting the body from harm while acting as an adornment.
Perhaps using such precious materials to protect oneself highlights the inherent fragility of the body beneath the protective covering. Sometimes the act of protection and concealment exposes our own fragility and the fears explored by Hirst, Bacon and Duprat. But being the fragile creatures we are, isn’t it better to enjoy the fleetingness of life surrounded by beauty? Dries van Noten certainly thinks so.