At first, it looks like an exorcism. Dancers from the ages of 16 to 64 convulse, writhe and gyrate in crisp shirtdresses and blood-red heels to the sound of Massive Attack’s Angel. Then come blurry flashes of shimmering dresses covered in vermillion paillettes, and sober coats with rose graphics, as the dance intensifies. Trance-like, you find yourself inexplicably glued to the screen.
This was what Dries Van Noten wanted you to experience when watching a film he created around his fall-winter 2021 collection. “We actually had tears in our eyes when we saw those dancers move on stage, after not being able to perform for a year,” the Belgian designer tells me over a video call. “It was like everybody released all the raw energy they had pent up inside, and it felt very real.”
In pre-pandemic times, Van Noten’s runway shows were some of the most anticipated of each season, the richly layered looks so ornate yet precise, the atmosphere so charged with emotion. “I used to joke that I’d get postnatal depression after a fashion show,” Van Noten says. For 35 years, discerning artcollector types and eclectic style icons have coveted his clashing, eclectic prints and refined, sober silhouettes. Indeed, many gush about owning a piece of Dries Van Noten knitwear from the Eighties as if they had bought a Basquiat.
“Shows used to be the big finale for the collection you were working on, where you gather 800 people and you experience this shared emotion for ten minutes,” he says. “Now the ending is more drawn-out.”
Since he could not stage a physical show this time, Van Noten enlisted 47 dancers from Antwerp, where his label is based, and directors Casper Sejersen and Pamela Berkovic to film the collection over three days at the deSingel art centre’s Red Hall, producing more than 40,000 images that were then painstakingly condensed into a video presentation.
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