Dries Van Noten “Inspiration” at Musée des Arts Décoratifs

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The Dries Van Noten retrospective, “Inspiration,” at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, crosses disciplines and cultures to provide a fabulous context for the Belgian couturier’s work.

Beware, the first few minutes are confusing: dim lighting caused me to walk into a display case, where several seemingly dissimilar garments appeared to float. Pieces ranged from indigenous costumes to textiles owned by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, to selected vêtements from Van Noten collections.

None were identified, and I didn’t know quite what to make of it all.

Then I found illuminated panels at the ends of the cases, which identify the contents, their designers, and—très important—the themes that unite them: the world of punk, the color gold, the ephemeral qualities of butterflies, the sartorial elegance of the Duke of Windsor, the emotional impact of the films “Clockwork Orange” and “The Piano”, to name a few.

The Van Noten garments make up less than a third of each vitrine; the show is dedicated to the art and artifacts that inspired their creation.

What’s a Dior ensemble from 1947 doing alongside the raw energy of David Bowie and designs by Vivienne Westwood? All three influenced Van Noten’s work—and part of the expo’s beauty is the way it makes such diverse influences tangible.

This joyful gathering of objects around aesthetic and theoretical qualities provides a glimpse of the designer’s creative process. The more I looked, the more I saw not just fashion, but a mind at work.

Until Aug 31.

Have you seen the show? Most people I talked to loved it, but a few didn’t. What did you think?