Art of fashion

The work of fashion designer Dries Van Noten has been placed alongside major artworks in a stunning show at the Louvre. Irishman Patrick Scallon played a key role persuading galleries around the world to give up their treasures, writes Deirdre McQuillan

Sat, Jun 28, 2014, 01:01

At three in the morning under cover of darkness in Paris, a 16th Bronzino portrait of a young sculptor was lifted carefully from its position in the Louvre and transported along the unlit corridors of the building to another side of the palace. This was the first time the painting had been moved since it was originally bought by Louis XIV in Florence, and it is one of the star pieces in an extraordinary multi-disciplinary exhibition currently at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs celebrating the work of Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten.

“It is not a career retrospective. It is about creativity,” says Pamela Golbin, curator of the exhibition and chief curator at the museum. For Van Noten it is an introspective “about the way I look at things, intuition and emotion”.

It is broad in scope and ambition; there are more than 400 items on show. Pieces from the designer’s collections are juxtaposed with clothes and artworks that have engaged and stimulated his imagination since his student days in Antwerp in the 1970s, drawn from museums, galleries and private collections. A butterfly gown by Schiaparelli from 1937, for instance, is displayed in front of a 2007 work by Damien Hirst with thousands of butterfly wings, just some of the startling relationships that triggered ideas for a fashion collection. There are dresses from Balenciaga and Dior, to Westwood and Versace; exceptional works of art from the 16th century to Rothko, Picasso, Francis Bacon and music from Jimi Hendrix and the Sex Pistols.

Masterminding its execution alongside Van Noten is Patrick Scallon, a 50-year-old Irishman from Irvinestown, Fermanagh, who has been working as the designer’s communications director for the past seven years. Negotiating with galleries, artists and photographers for loans and permissions has been a formidable four-year task demanding considerable skills of diplomacy and persuasion. Though most artists were happy to take part, some were initially reluctant.

“A lot of them were afraid of their work diminishing in value by associating with fashion. This exhibition is breaking the mould without being pretentious. You were confronted with a lot of their snobberies and a lot is self-imposed. Sometimes you forget that they are watching us more than we are watching them,” observes Scallon wryly when we meet in Paris.

Fashion and art often collide, but their convergence is illustrated provocatively in this exhibition, which is attracting record attendances – in its first month some 2,900 daily – as well as museum curators from all over the world intrigued by its pioneering combination of different creative fields. The run has now been extended to November and a version will open in Antwerp in February. Advanced negotiations are underway for its move to New York in 2015.

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