That’s what Dries Van Noten’s spring 2023 collection felt like as it unfolded from an all-black beginning, to a softer middle, then exploded into a beautiful riot of florals that was a master class in mixing prints.
“I thought maybe we have to start from black, really the essence, the base of what fashion and clothes are — pleating, volume, structures, then to introduce the same volumes going from stiff and hard to softer, fluid versions. The shapes in fact stayed the same, so it’s the same lexicon,” the designer said during a preview.
The storyline, or rather three storylines, could be a metaphor for our times, he mused.
“On the one hand you want protection but on the other hand you want to show your softer side.”
So there was all-black cocooning outerwear and sharp tailoring with jeweled buttons and pins, or a gorgeous sleeveless top pin-tucked to hourglass precision over a party decoration of a skirt in textured, layered plisse like only van Noten can make them.
Then he introduced more softness in a stripped back way — oversize tailoring in Sweetart hues with a relaxed, Nineties-looking swagger, color-blocked slip dresses with matte sequined color fields, slouchy shirting with pleated corsages, draped jersey skirts and faded pastel baggy fringed denim.
But it was the flower fest that really brightened the room — and no wonder: van Noten has one of the best color and print senses of any designer working today, a legacy stretching far back that he was happy to celebrate.
He referenced the ‘90s here, too. It’s an era he knows well, having first launched his women’s collection in 1993. But he put his own spin on the transparent second skin layers, snug shirting, baby cardigans, cargo pants and duster coats that are back on the streets now.
He did it by expertly mixing florals of different scales and adding lots of textures with crushed and pleated fabrics, georgette garlands, giant blooms and snaking ruffles. Handcrafted silk cord macrame tunics and overskirts, tubular glass jewelry, curved brass heels and frilled shoes added touches of craft and whimsy.
What does Dries miss from the ’90s?
“I’ve never been nostalgic, but now, with all that’s happening in the world, I get a little bit scared of the future,” he said. “But all my team is young people and they want to be optimistic, they don’t want to hear the past was so much better.”
The runway must roll on.