To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, it may be the test of a first-rate nervous system when a designer can plan two very different kinds of shows — one runway, one museum — at the same time and set to open during the same week, while retaining the ability to function.
Halfway through, Dries Van Noten is functioning just fine, thank you. The fall collection he showed on Wednesday was audacious and practical in equal measure, making for powerful, chic-with-a-twist viewing. The ruse: Bridget Riley-inspired Op Art graphics and a potent, color-centric rave-culture intensity layered onto Van Noten’s hyper-focused clothes with their unmistakable men’s wear dash.
“I wanted to do color, I wanted to do fun, so we called it ‘Coutorama,’” Van Noten said during a preview. “It’s sharp lines of graphic motifs, it’s acids, it’s raves.” And contrasting the precision frenzy: glistening hand-painted silver flowers “to bring out the random feel. I wanted the human to come through.”
That said, one of Van Noten’s great strengths is his ability to control visually intense motifs; any apparent randomness is intentional, thought out and rendered meticulously; his swirls, overlapping triptych circles and broken-striped grids were applied with bravado executed oh-so-carefully. At times, he went for the contrast of the caustic-on-classic: an emblem of descending green and gray circles fused to a plain, mannish coat; bright discs giving pop to tony T-shirts. At other times, he opted for full-on visual shock value: a panel of circles, now in canary yellow and gray on a belted jacket in fuchsia-and-gray swerved stripes, and bolder still, such graphics on floral-print separates, their base pattern itself large-scale and vibrant. Undulating stripes were another interpretation, in silver-and-black for a skirt and coat and wide swaths of high-contrast silk and sequins (blue and orange; maroon and blue) for loud-but-graceful godet skirts and dresses. As for the hand-pieces, they lent an artisanal touch to the demonstrative precision.
Throughout, Van Noten integrated athletic references — jackets and pants with zippers and parachute details that stood in contrast to the collection’s more obviously polished fare. Either way, he kept his proportions ample, right down to the primary accessories: big, still 3-D flowers perched on the shoulder with no small degree of drama.