Dries Van Noten and Cultural Appreciation

Critiques of cultural appropriation amidst fashion month have become increasingly commonplace, and for good reason.
Rather than draw inspiration from diverse cultural elements, certain collections arise every so often that seem to rely on simply reproducing particular traditional or regionally-specific items for their audiences without reinterpreting the designs and conveying a relationship with (or respect of!) the culture(s) in question. In the conflict and defensiveness that often follows once cultural appropriation is identified, what’s often expressed in the question of, well, should designers simply not draw from cultures that aren’t really their own? Of course, this isn’t really the issue.
Enter Dries Van Noten, whose designs often express a pastiche of different cultural elements, but without ever verging into a thoughtless appropriation of these artefacts.  As Van Noten expresses in his interview with the Independent: “You can’t just do whatever you want...When it’s sacred, when it's religious, you have to be careful. It’s not just an object; it’s not just a thing. I want to pay respect to that; I think there are enough things in the world that you don't have to go that way. It’s important that it feels honest, but it is fashion – I have no problem mixing Japanese motifs and Chinese emblems in the same fabric, for instance.” This type of sensitivity and awareness to the issues present when creating and drawing from different histories and artistic aspects is perhaps one reason why Van Noten’s aesthetic has remained so distinct and immediately identifiable: with an understanding of the specific artistic elements being drawn upon, it becomes possible to imagine ways of mixing and remixing different fabrics, designs, images, details in ways that seem at once eclectic and also seamless.
From brocade patterns, to ruching, to embroidery, Van Noten seems to actually pay homage to each of the different cultures that inspire his work while still maintaining a strong “voice” that’s unmissable. At ReFrock, we have a steady collection of Van Noten’s works available, and are ourselves inspired to look at the numerous different elements that are infused throughout Van Noten’s distinct work!