Couture is in the air this ready-to-wear season. Perhaps it’s because many people in Paris and elsewhere on the fashion circuit are giving serious consideration to the meaning of luxury in these challenging times. Or maybe, given its explorations of haute constructions of the Fifties and Sixties, the powerful Balenciaga exhibit at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York that closed in February had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, the result is some wonderfully chic, adult clothes.
Dries Van Noten was drawn to the architectural shapes of Spanish and Italian couture of the period. “It’s always about elegance and beauty,” he said the day before his show. He took the structured volume of the genre as one starting point while giving equal importance to the print mixes he loves. In a season of tropicalia, abstracts, edibles and geometrics, Van Noten drove home his mastery of printed matter. He took vastly different motifs — 17th century etchings, the jungle, the nighttime cityscapes (London, New York, Beirut, Vegas) of photographer James Reeve — combining them variously in single pieces (a dress with an etching-derived yoke atop imposingly tall palm trees) or juxtaposing froth (a ruffled spill down the side of one of the etched skirts, worn with an austere white-collared black shirt), both to powerful effect. Such contrast ran throughout, particularly in Van Noten’s use of frills: a peplum on pants; folkloric embroideries used obviously, on toreador jackets, and otherwise, as on the collar and pocket flaps of a divinely slouchy white suit jacket, tied in front for shape.
Despite all the prints and flashes of hot colors — fuchsia, bright green and yellow — this collection felt mercifully calm. Van Noten worked his complicated structural and topical maneuverings deftly, so that you could imagine a real-life sighting of more than one woman in his printed looks together in the same room without getting a headache. Like those couturiers of yore, Van Noten nailed the elegance and beauty.