For autumn-winter 2021, Dries Van Noten left the comfort zone of any kind of runway or simple look-book far, far behind. There’s something cathartic about watching rage, frustration, confusion, longing and separation being danced out on a darkened Antwerp stage in the film the designer produced. Naming the un-nameable feelings of lockdown life, it plays out in territory close to home, evoking both the Belgian fashion culture of the 1990s which Van Noten belongs to, and the visceral physical intimacy of how we relate to clothes. “I think we’ve passed the stage of pretending,” he said. “We’ve all gone through something really not nice together. There’s kind of a rawness and directness also – it’s real movements, it’s real emotions.” The film, under strict COVID conditions, was a pretty big production: a gathering of 47 dancers and models on the stage of the deSingel theater in Antwerp, filmed by the director and photographer Casper Sejersen. It’s dramatic and sexual, and we’ve got the most delightful Van Noten pieces, like glittery marabou-trimmed dresses, dark tailoring and print-splashed volumes. Maybe you don’t entirely see all the details, but somehow this isn’t a disadvantage – you certainly ‘feel’ those clothes. “It’s rare that I’ve seen so much emotional kind of things which have cropped up in the body. Nobody was just saying like, ‘Oh, let’s make a pretty move.’ I think one way or another, there was something on stage there that happened. You felt that people wanted to say something with their body, even the models, who after five minutes were dancing even better than some dancers. I think Casper really managed to put that into the video – you really feel that kind of intensity that everybody felt and shared in that moment.” In the digital age, the opportunity to show clothes in movement, in different situations, on different kinds of people, and getting at social situations way beyond the narrow conventions of shows has turned out to be far more exciting, he also adds. “Do we really want to go back at a certain moment to 50 girls in a row who are 16-, 18-years-old, with a perfect size? Anyway, for June and September I don’t want to even think about shows. I don’t know if I’m going to feel the need to do a fashion show. If we are going to do them, it’s not going to be in the same way as before. I think this time is over, and nobody has the need to see a circus like that again. I think there’s now a realness and intensity, with the videos and pictures, and the way that everyone is finding their way to express themselves. And I feel quite well with what we’re doing now.”
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.