A travelling exhibition showcases both the Lightscapes series of photographer James Reeve and the spring-summer 2012 collection of Dries Van Noten which uses the same long-exposure studies in the label’s signature prints.
Dries Van Noten and James Reeves are both masters of print, albeit of a different variety. While Van Noten is famous for the rich graphics found on the fabrics of his eponymous cult-status fashion label, Reeve is a photographer whose Lightscapes series is a favourite of collectors and magazines. And after a chance encounter at the Festival d’Hyeres in 2010, where the Belgian fashion designer sat on the fashion jury and the London-born, Marseille-based photographer was a finalist in the concurrent Hyeres Photo Festival, a collaboration was born that sees photography become fashion.
At the Dries Van Noten spring-summer 2012 catwalk show, the eerie studies of light that pierce the Lightscapes of James Reeve flashed from a capsule collection of dresses, shirts, skirts and accessories. Across a night-dark dress that is draped fluidly over the body, the abstract-like representation of a bridge twinkles in burnt orange. On a full-length skirt that is tailored to the body at the waist before bursting into flamenco-like ruffles, the sinuous route of headlights on a freeway makes swirls in a spectrum of light. And on a sharply constructed t-shirt, a skyscraper scene is emblazoned through a DNA-like pattern of rainbow dots.
Heightening the blurry line between this fusion of art/fashion is a travelling exhibition that sees the Dries Van Noten collection exhibited alongside the work of James Reeve that was transferred onto fabric. Having started at Vienna’s Gallery Song Song, the show moved to Hong Kong and Tokyo before finishing in Paris – a fitting end, being both the city of light and of fashion.
Dries Van Noten’s definition of luxury?
What attracted to you to the Landscapes series of James Reeve?
I liked the mystery, the lights at night. I have always found it fascinating to witness the vast scope of a city at night from an airplane, the almost pixel effect of the tiny little lights.
Did you immediately see his work as something to combine with your collection?
For the Spring-Summer 2012 collection we tried to use things that we had never used before and combine prints with elements that are not usually associated with textiles. We used a series of photos of nightscapes taken by James Reeve and mixed them with 18th-century etchings or engravings of butterfly wings. In the end it turned out beautifully.
You are known as a master of print – where does this feature in your design process? What comes first, the silhouette or the print?
Well, that depends on the garment… I have an unconditional passion for fabrics and of course prints, most of which we create ourselves. The way they drape, their genesis, their feel – these are all essential elements in my creative process. They tell stories, and they will most often be the departure of a new collection.
This collection is being shown in galleries - to what extent should the fashion of Dries Van Noten be considered as art?
Not at all and we only show in one gallery and that is the Joyce Gallery in Paris. Vienna was at an art space attached to Song one of our stockists there. Hong Kong was at a members club and in Tokyo, a vacant commercial space. In my opinion fashion is an applied art. A creative process though not an artistic endeavour. It is automatically collaborative. Whereas an artist may produce his works alone and even change medium, a fashion designer’s expression is constrained to fabrics and working on the human form. In saying that, I think that many designers can be inspired from the works of artists and by reading books or visiting exhibitions, as indeed the inverse is also the case.
James Reeve’s definition of luxury:
Time. I never have enough.
How do you achieve the unusual effects in the Lightscapes series?
Nearly all of what I achieve visually with these images is done in-camera, using a system I have developed based on relatively simple exposure techniques. I shoot on film, which is then scanned to create a digital file. I work on this file to balance the colours and ensure that the blacks are consistently rich and solid throughout the image. I do not manipulate the images in any way, restricting myself to a minimal amount of retouching work on the images.
What do you see in the night that you don’t see during the day?
I see a very peaceful, inspiring and magical time. Over the years I have photographed the night in many different ways, in the past using traditional long-exposure techniques to peel back the veil of darkness and cheat the night of its power to obscure our vision. With my Lightscapes project though I wanted to create a more graphic body of work so I have gone in very much the other direction, embracing the night and allowing only the artificial lights of vast cities, buildings and isolated villages to penetrate the dense blackness.
Did you think the Lightscapes transfer well into fashion?
The images are very graphic and I think this translated really well onto the garments Dries created. It was not something I had ever imagined for the Lightscapes but I am really happy with the outcome.
Did you simply send the images or was the project more of a collaboration with Dries Van Noten?
Dries and I met in Antwerp to discuss the initial idea for our collaboration and after that I was involved in overseeing the fabric printing: Dries was very keen for my images to be represented in a way that I was happy with. I have no experience of fashion designing so I kept well out of the way during the design process. Other aspects of the collaboration - especially the exhibitions we have had in Vienna, Hong Kong, Japan and Paris - have been very much collaborative, the process has worked really well as Dries has some great people working for him.