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Backstage at Dries Van Noten SS17
Backstage at Dries Van Noten SS17Photography Evan Schreiber

Dries Van Noten explores the beautiful and brutal

With flowers encased in melting blocks of ice, the designer invites showgoers to stop and reflect

Over the years, Dries Van Noten has given us some sublime moments to ponder and be in awe of. Not necessarily ones that centre around big budget set-building extravaganzas – more like subtle gestures rooted in simplicity and his ideals of beauty. Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood strumming out a solo bass line at SS14 comes to mind, as do the models sitting on a pasture of verdant tapestry at SS15. For SS17, it was the sound of amplified dripping water that accompanied a runway lined with 23 obelisks of ice, with extraordinary arrangements of flowers frozen inside, which were already beginning to melt and pool with water on the catwalk. These were the work of artistic florist Azuma Makoto, who revived his “Iced Flowers” sculptures from his exhibition in Tokyo back in January, using Van Noten’s choice of flowers.

Sure the cameras and smartphones started firing away, but the sculptures were also a symbolic device, created to express the sort of deliberately brusque treatment of nature, which van Noten was inspired by for his latest collection. “It was about looking things in a brutal way,” explained Van Noten. “Big bunches of flowers cut up. Cutting up historical garments. Being completely bare and completely overdone at the same time. Losing control – but just a little bit.”  

You could never accuse the exacting flora encased in ice as a loss of control. These were specifically chosen as Van Noten’s favourite flowers and so similarly when Japanese kimono floral motifs exploded on faded out dresses or when Victorian jet beaded collars are paired with cream linens and cotton tees, there’s some element of deliberation behind what Van Noten described as a more “direct” way of working. The Japonaiserie continued in the imperial yellow that shone through in the middle of the show, tempered with splashes of inky black. The soundtrack mixed by Swedish composer Jacob Kirkegaard was a also a cut-up collage of eclecticism – everything from Pulp’s “This is Hardcore” to Brian Eno to Madonna’s “Frozen”. The vibe of her Victoriana garb worn in that video managed to seep its way into the collection, too.  

Back to those dripping blocks of frozen flora though, Dries left them open to interpretation. “It’s just beauty,” he shrugged. “Everything can find the symbolism for themselves. It’s like finding beauty in that Madonna song. It came straight from the heart.” And for yet another moment where we get to stand still and marvel for a minute or two, van Noten should be applauded.