Dries Van Noten's designs are singular. He certainly creates trends and finds himself in the midst of them, but his work is his and his alone. It's very rare to look at one of his pieces and recall another designer.
Which is why his "Inspiration" exhibit, which opens March 1 at the Musée des Arts Décoratif in Paris, is so compelling. The two-floor show is divided by the people and ideas that have informed his work over the years, from "Kiss of the Spider Woman" to Francis Bacon. Along with imagery, film clips and videos illustrating these references, there are pieces by other designers -- including Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Christian Dior -- displayed alongside almost 200 of his own looks. How extraordinary is it for a designer to be so grounded in his own that he is confident enough to build such an environment? Van Noten himself said it best in a quote displayed on the wall of the exhibition: "What I do is neither a photocopy nor an homage. It is all about being inspired by someone else's work and transporting it to a different setting, an operation that is as subjective as it is personal."
Barneys New York, the first American retailer to carry Van Noten, sponsored the exhibit. "We have a special relationship with him. There are not that many designers that are still in Barneys after 28 years," said CEO Mark Lee at last night's private showing. "I think the exhibit explains it a little bit. He has created his own style -- you can see the through-line --but some people do that and they get in a bubble, fashion marches on, and they are still in that bubble. Somehow, he manages to move [his work] forward by referencing what's happening in the world. That's probably his secret."
Pamela Golbin, general curator of Contemporary Fashion and Textiles at the Les Arts Décoratifs, has been working on the exhibit with Van Noten and his team for nearly two years. "From the beginning, what we really wanted to do what to take an emotional journey through fashion," she said. "It might sound a little corny, but in the end it really was, for him, important to show it's about the creative process."
The exhibition has proved the early highlight of Paris Fashion Week, with dozens of Van Noten's fellow designers -- including Rick Owens, Erdem Moralioglus, Mary Katrantzou and Claude Montana -- coming out for last night's event. After spending time walking through the exhibit myself -- and eavesdropping on Mr. Van Noten giving a friend a private tour -- I can confirm that the enthusiastic reception is well deserved. Click through for an inside look at the exhibit. And if you're in Paris before August 31, make sure to visit the Musée des Arts Décoratifs for the real experience.