At Dries Van Noten, Forget Video: The Fashion Photograph Still Has Plenty To Say

Almost a year ago, Marc Jacobs showed what I then described as the first post-Instagram…

Almost a year ago, Marc Jacobs showed what I then described as the first post-Instagram fashion show. It was a live dance performance at the Park Avenue Armory, choreographed by Karole Armitage into a vibrant chaos. Crucially, it was impossible to take in exclusively through the Instagram photographs and videos posted by the attendees. You really did have to be there. The resulting runway images, messy and unfocused, seemed alive and artful. After spending so long courting the entire world, fashion seemed ready to turn back in on itself, speaking instead to small groups of connoisseurs and diehards who were as fluent in McQueen’s work in Givenchy and Jacobs’s at Vuitton as they were in those houses’ current output.

The pandemic replaced that introspection with a much larger existential question: what are all these designers doing at all? The runway is on pause, and in its stead a whole new medium has allegedly taken its place: video. Fashion designers have become content creators. Still, it’s been a year, and have we seen any truly great fashion films? Maybe Martine Rose’s digital high-rise in January featuring Drake hanging at the studio and Big Youth jamming out, or Marine Serre’s Amor Fati in the fall. But most films don’t quite resonate. I asked Steff Yotka, Vogue Runway’s fashion news editor, what she thought, and she told me, “Nick Knight has talked about how we’re in the nascent stages of fashion film—and even the beginnings of fashion photography. And as usual, he’s totally right! As an industry, fashion has a tendency to get way ahead of itself, constantly running at the future while ignoring the present.” In other words, we aren’t quite ready for Hollywood.

Courtesy of Casper Sejersen for Dries van Noten
Courtesy of Casper Sejersen for Dries van Noten

That means something else is the predominant mode of our moment: the fashion photograph. The Dries Van Noten show that debuted on Wednesday convinced me of it. He did make a video—and a really excellent one, actually. At just under than seven minutes, it featured dancers and models grooving to Massive Attack with weird naturalness, turning the acts of falling, posing, and even taking off and putting on clothes into disturbing trancelike movements. Several of the dancers were from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas dance company (including De Keersmaeker herself), which is known for turning vernacular gestures into choreography. This dancing was like an aggressive, grunge voguing, or maybe a gnarlier interpretation of the moments between the big poses that voguing has made iconic. It felt like a video about photography, or made for it.

The accompanying lookbook is one of the most visually striking of the season—which is perhaps unexpected. Van Noten is in an interesting place. That’s true in part because he was one of the few people to really question the fashion system over the last year, but also, simply, because of his clothes. He has always been the king of prints, and now he’s pulled back, over the past two seasons, to something almost stark. But this show demonstrated the dynamism of the clothes and a clarity about where Van Noten stands: his clients, who have always thought like collectors, already have prints and jacquards and paisley velvets galore. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself pulling out my exuberant neon and purple Dries coach’s blouson, and my sparkly black cherry blossom jacket with a mandarin collar, as instant mood boosters to wear over sweatpants and tees. What I want now is the right gabardine suit pants to wear with them—which is exactly what he’s now delivering.

Courtesy of Casper Sejersen for Dries van Noten