Last season, Dries Van Noten detoured from his signature visual opulence with a spectacular collection based on the classic white shirt that was, by his standards, on the plain side.

Fall finds Van Noten in an unusual place, back in the land of exotica, but with a collection that didn’t have the runway appeal of spring. Perhaps that’s because for all of their overt visual gestures, the intricacies of these clothes require examination up close, at which distance they look exquisite.  

Van Noten looked to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, (his interest likely piqued by the recent exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum) along with a soupçon of Ziggy Stardust for his starting points. But such cultural deities aside, Van Noten’s primary inspiration remains the women who will wear the clothes. He sees this lineup as suited to “a liberal woman who goes for a lot of things, is not scared of things, of putting things together.”

Thus, the graphic gestures — vast fabric range, mesmerizing mixes, inventive embroideries, fur treatments, earthy-bright colors — worked to ultrachic effect. The point, he said, was to look strong and spontaneous, a combination expressed in the show’s opening look, a suit in brazenly mismatched black-and-white fabric gyrations and a thick hand-knit sweater over a skirt covered in appliquéd swirls of orange python. Van Noten worked the same approach to very different effect in a masterful series of dresses cut with intense yet visually discreet asymmetry. One dress had sleeves that fell from differently cut shoulders; others draped the torso in gracefully off-kilter mien, without ever turning tricky. That mood reappeared for evening in languid gowns, each a gorgeous pastiche of silk, shimmer and seduction.

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