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Barneys Celebrates Dries Van Noten's 'Inspirations' in New York

The designer discusses his windows on Madison Avenue, his exhibit at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and his visit to Manhattan.

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“Dries Van Noten: Inspirations,” currently showing at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs, has been much-lauded for providing a glimpse into the designer’s mind via its inclusion of other people’s paintings, textiles, videos and photographs. Now Barneys New York, a sponsor of the exhibition, has found a way to capture a similar spirit, though much closer to home.

The Madison Avenue store’s windows, unveiled over the weekend, feature a collaboration between Van Noten and artist, filmmaker and photographer Andrew Zuckerman, as well as Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman. The collision of Zuckerman’s short films with the designer’s pieces, many of which are archival, give a new read on Van Noten’s creative impulses.

For the occasion, the Belgian designer arrived Monday night and headed straight to Zuckerman’s studio to see the fruits of the partnership.

Van Noten had initially considered Zuckerman’s work for the Paris show. “We really wanted to do something about gardens because I am addicted to gardening,” he said. “I wanted to bring the concept of the garden into the museum, but you can’t bring any plants or living organisms, except humans, into a museum. A photographer I worked with knew Andrew’s work. In the end, it was not the thing we looked for in this exhibition, but I still really loved his work. When Barneys asked me to do the window, I thought, I know the person to do it with.”

The Barneys project kicked into high gear when Freedman visited the designer in his hometown last summer, to “see both the studio and Dries’ gardens, because he said that they were something obviously so intrinsic to his creative life,” said Freedman. The conversation evolved to collaborations with the goal of finding a way to cast a new perspective on Van Noten’s oeuvre.

“We took elements of inspirations of Dries and incorporated them into the window in a more abstract way,” Freedman said. “It’s another way of seeing Dries’ work, and hopefully it adds to the [Paris] show.”

The windows pick up on themes from the exhibition, including butterflies, feathers and flowers, each set atmospherically in a Japanese rock garden, a pool of water and coral in Yves Klein blue, for example. Zuckerman’s four short films (“Cycle,” “Emergence,” “Flight” and “Variance”) feature flowers blooming and decaying, a butterfly emerging from a cocoon and birds expanding their wings before going into slow-motion flight.

For Zuckerman, fashion is new territory. “I am not involved in fashion directly,” he said. “I also thought I had responsibility to Dries’ work and didn’t know too much about it.

“I started to get very interested in the idea of expansion and compression at the time and taking a look at these subjects in a way that could excite Dries,” he added. “The natural world is what inspires me most and I think maybe that’s why Dries was interested in me trying this with him. He seems to work in a space that is unique to him, a journey that is rooted in a true curiosity.”

It’s also a celebration of Van Noten’s 27-year partnership with Barneys, which was the first store to carry the designer in America. As Barneys chief executive officer Mark Lee put it, “Our nearly three-decade-long relationship with Dries Van Noten is rare in that he has remained throughout one of our most consistent designers — yet also one of the most innovative, modern and independent.”

The designer, who is in New York through Thursday, is keeping a busy schedule. Tonight, Lee and KCD president Ed Filipowski hosted the designer at their home; on Wednesday night, Van Noten will make a personal appearance at Barneys to sign copies of the book “Dries Van Noten: Inspirations,” of which the store commissioned an exclusive $275 luxury edition.

While in New York, “I always try to catch up with what happens and what changed in the city, walking around Madison Avenue to see what stores opened,” Van Noten said. “I also want to visit Dover Street Market, some galleries, and some museums. I want to go to the Whitney but it all depends a little bit on the weather and the snow. If there is a lot of snow, it will be more museums and less walking on streets, going from gallery to gallery.”

The Paris exhibition, which runs through Aug. 31 before moving to Antwerp, Belgium, has been a success with higher than average daily visitors for the museum. Van Noten is fascinated by the reaction.

“There are people who just run through,” he said. “I was there last week to guide some people around. It’s nice to see how people walk through the exhibition. There were two French ladies who were really only watching the small videos of my old fashion shows and commenting on them, like the two old men from ‘The Muppet Show.’ It was like that. ‘Colors and fabrics are good, but the shapes are not a strong point.’” Van Noten didn’t introduce himself to the critics but quietly shadowed them for a while “because it was so much fun.”

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