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Paris Day Three: The Power of Memories at Dries Van Noten and Undercover

Two of the most evocative shows of the season, one firmly based in reality, the other existing in a melancholy dream realm.
Undercover Spring/Summer 2024
Undercover Spring/Summer 2024. (Getty Images)

PARIS — Chinos, denim, stripes (banker, racing, rugby) … welcome to the real world of Dries Van Noten’s Spring ‘24 runway. Normal clothes, he called them. Wear them every day. Throw them in the washing machine. And no embellishment. As straightforward as the cotton twill coat and matching kick pleated skirt that opened the show. “But we didn’t want to make normal clothes,” Van Noten continued. “So everything had to be shrunken or really oversized.” And when there was embellishment, it had to be an unexpected all-or-nothing, a sheet of paillettes on a cricket vest, a placket of pearls on a plain navy coat, or diamonds on the heels of her shoes and anywhere else you don’t expect to find them. It’s Van Noten’s signature, the familiar rendered completely, irresistibly strange.

The raw concrete of the deconstructed location echoed the backdrop of the men’s show in June. Van Noten wanted to underscore other similarities, not least the long coats, because he felt there was a more intense interaction than usual between the two collections. He imagined this one as menswear really seen through a woman’s eyes: sporty sturdiness tempered by an innate elegance. The way, for instance, that a cotton drill tank was elongated and gathered into a kind of ruffle trimmed in a racing stripe. Casual but chic. Same thing with the slouchy blazers.

The spine-tingling soundtrack by 2manyDJs featured a collage of women’s voices — Florence Shaw of the band Dry Cleaning, Madonna, Björk, Billie Holiday and Marianne Faithfull — artfully edited to sound like they were talking to each other. The flurries of strings that interrupted their “conversation” eventually resolved themselves into a goosebumpy gust of “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins. The song brought a surge of memories for Van Noten at the same time as it reminded the audience of how often this designer’s fusion of sound and vision has triggered moments of genuine emotion in fashion. His is already a precious legacy.

Jun Takahashi at Undercover excels at making similarly umbilical connections between the clothes he shows and the context he creates for them. And he is equally adept at eliciting unexpected moments of emotional overload. He thought of the show he presented on Wednesday as a requiem, an homage to all the people he’s lost who were close to him. Why now? Well, Takahashi is not alone in his feelings of loss. It’s been a brutal few years.

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Inevitably, the mood was melancholy, but gorgeously, indulgently so, which was mostly due to the beauty of the collection that Takahashi showed. The individual pieces were recognisable as coats, dresses, jackets, trousers, skirts and shorts, but they were cut from layers of sheer fabric, or veiled in ways that subtly blurred the details, like the veils on the faces of the models. Through his translator, Takahashi referred to this effect as “deleting the design he’d already made to make something new.”

The sheerness was silk, or mousseline, or those fabulous Japanese synthetics that you imagine to be as diaphanous as angels’ wings. There were actual feathered wings at one point, shrouded in mousseline. Jürgen Knieper’s soundtrack for Wim Wenders’ cult classic “Wings of Desire” filled the room. Takahashi drew on Neo Rauch, another German artist, for the prints that brought the collection back to earth. Rauch finds a rich visual poetry in the way our heavily industrialised society burdens human beings while it promises to liberate them. It’s that irony which made him a dream collaborator for Takahashi. It’s also a fact that you don’t need to know any of this to appreciate the beauty of the pieces Takahashi created with Rauch’s paintings.

In “Wings of Desire,” the dead return to Earth as angels, bringing memories from the past, like ghosts. Takahashi said that was his own dream. He closed his show with an astonishing trio of dresses whose skirts were glowing terrariums, filled with flowers and plants amidst which butterflies fluttered. They would be released afterwards, the translator reassured the gathered journalists. Takahashi added something. “He feels he’s stuck in the world, but he wants to release himself,” said the translator. If I could offer him some reassurance in return, I would say that life may be as transient as butterflies in a terrarium, but there is a permanence in the beauty that artists like Takahashi are able to give us on a seasonal basis. We just don’t recognise how lucky we are.

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About the author
Tim Blanks
Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks is Editor-at-Large at The Business of Fashion. He is based in London and covers designers, fashion weeks and fashion’s creative class.

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