“A handsome woman.” Were this writer not left-handed, she might observe that these days that’s about as left-handed a compliment as can be directed at a woman. Handsome. Imposing rather than pretty. Grand, possibly dumpy; almost certainly not youthful.


Allow Dries Van Noten to slam that perception. “A handsome woman” is his stated spring muse, one he sees as strong, dignified and casually glamorous. And oh, yes, very real. “These are simple clothes,” he said, “really clothes to wear. Not a big extravagant statement.”


Not exactly, as Van Noten turned simplicity into a major statement. On the handsome wagon, one imagines that, if Katharine Hepburn were alive and in her prime today, she would love these clothes, their subtle above-it-all security jostling for position with major chic, and the wearer wins. He started with a man’s shirt, manipulating the classic through effects of the Forties, Seventies and Nineties, and interweaving a tuxedo motif. Did he see the YSL exhibit? “Like every other designer, I went there,” he said, adding that his collection was already complete, “but [the Saint Laurent mood] is out there.”


This was no peasant fest, but a glorious reimagining of everyday sportswear characterized by dramatic oversize proportions. These were made feminine by an intricately executed pale palette and floral prints pilfered from Chinese porcelains, and glam by plenty of high-shine iridescence.


The white shirt turned up in all sorts of variations, including a skirt with sleeves tied in front and a dress under mesmerizing transparent veilings. Other core pieces: mannish jackets and coats and very wide pants. Often, the fabrics started out basic — canvas and denim. But Van Noten, who routinely develops fascinating fabrics, took bleach to some and, to others, added prints inspired by the subtle color gradations of Belgian artist Jef Verheyen. A stunning example: the white canvas coat with broad whispers of pink and blue. But don’t think Van Noten’s color choices wimpy. While other designers are going for vibrant color clashes this season, Van Noten kept his soft but no less offbeat; for instance, a blue coat over a peach shirt and jeans in a wash from green to peach. Though his primary embellishment was iridescent in silvery fabrics and leather accessories, Van Noten gave in to his love of elaborate embroideries for a masterfully crafted coat, tossed casually over a sheer shirt and wide pants. Simply divine.

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