Can you imagine Frank Zappa and Oscar Wilde in the same room? Dries Van Noten could. Or at least he put them together on the aural collage he spent a week working on as an accompaniment for his new show, Zappa's dialogues with fictional groupie goddess Suzy Creamcheese spliced together with a plummy-voiced narration of Wilde's The Happy Prince (maybe it was Stephen Fry, but it sounded too plummy even for him). And while models walked to that soundtrack, a team of artists painted a mural that used Wilde's words and Zappa's winginess. It was, to say the very least, a multifocal event, maybe even a happening. And what it suggested was that Dries had decided to stage an intervention on his own career, to rattle a cage, release the bats. A risk, for sure, but also a feel-alive moment. And, mercifully, that was how it felt.
"Psychedelic elegance" was his pitch. The delivery split two ways: prints so packed with narrative and detail they could have been lifted from Brueghel, matched to a solemn, tailored, military-tinged Victorian story. Which was, if you think about it, a shading on the Zappa-Wilde exchange. And also, in a less obvious way, an indication of how fundamentally compatible those two probably were, and not just because they both set out to épater la bourgeoisie. The haute hippie style of Zappa's late-sixties heyday drew on vintage Victoriana, with a bit of lace and a lot more color added for sensual effect. And The Happy Prince was practically hippie chapter and verse.
If Dries hadn't exactly drunk the electric Kool-Aid, he'd taken on board the heightened perceptions of the psychedelic sixties in the motifs lifted from Dutch artist Gijs Frieling and the reinterpretation of Wilde's words by calligraphy artist Letman. They were both eye-popping on jackets, shirts, and pants, maybe even more so because they were cut so precisely. Their boldness also seemed poignant in an odd way, like many feel-alive moments. Dries has decided it's not a moment to play safe. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But there's always the nagging sense that attaches itself to risk of any kind.