Dries Van Noten and the Cult of Celebrity

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Dries Van Noten S/S16
Dries Van Noten S/S16Photography by Dorothée Smith

We explore Dries Van Noten's Marilyn Monroe-inspired collection through the lens of Hollywood photographer Elliott Landy

Andy Warhol famously decreed that "In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Dries Van Noten's S/S16 show, which took archive photography of icons like Marilyn Monroe and printed them onto suits and shorts, ponchos and trousers, seemed to be an apt exploration of this (ominous) prediction, a simultaneous celebration of the iconoclasts of the 20th century and a wry look at the culture that idolises them. During a time where celebrity rules, Van Noten was offering a beautifully-tailored commentary on the phenomenon of fame that has seemingly overtaken every facet of contemporary culture – particularly fashion. Rather than just seating his celebs in the front row, they were taking centre-stage on his garments.

"It was an impressive tribute to her durability that the young models in Van Noten's show actually knew who Marilyn Monroe was" wrote Tim Blanks on the collection. "But that didn't diminish the eeriness of seeing tragic Marilyn's face writ so large on a man's suit or a long, fluid robe. And the collection's colour palette seemed to recognise that. It had a Hollywood gothic flavor, gilded and shadowy." And this seemed to be the overarching atmosphere of the collection which, amidst the shimmering satins and pop-art prints, maintained an aura of sobriety; it didn't abstract the image of Marilyn from her troubled history (as so many things do) but rather embraced it, challenging us to explore how we observe those who we place on our pedestals. Rather than a vapid series of idolatry fashioned into garments, Van Noten's was a deliberately surreal (Dali and Schiaparelli featured heavily) journey into the consumption of celebrity.

By sheer coincidence, the show coincided with the release of photographer Elliott Landy's book Opening Night, which explores Warhol-era Hollywood through a questioning lens. Most renowned for his work with Underground Newspapers and rock concerts, one day in the late sixties Landy decided that "I wanted to find a way to make a living from my photos… and to be a part of the glamorous world I had seen in media all my life." And yet, once immersed in Hollywood glitz, he quickly realised "the absurdity of the star culture with its hero worship, prize awards and contrived media coverage,” his images ending up “often ridiculous, to the point of being humourous."

Documenting everything from Dirk Borgarde telling Lauren Bacall to smile for the camera to Marlene Dietrich crawling out from underneath a dinner table, his photographs expose a different side of Hollywood, one that "penetrated the illusion of glamour." Landy explains that "seeing how the culture has evolved over the past 50 years, the message of these photos is more relevant than ever – that we, as a society, pay more attention to physical glamour and fame than to wisdom." And, looking at Andy Warhol’s iconic images of Monroe – a woman whose image was entirely dissonant with her reality – “languishing along the border of silks” (as the Dries Van Noten press release describes) perfectly posits the glamour of fashion and celebrity against the darkness that often lurks in the shadows.

Opening Night by Elliott Landy is available at www.imperial-publishing.com