Professionals should be professional — almost always. But when it comes to fashion, occasionally, circumstances call for a “bleep it” attitude, when one can (should?) indulge in, call it what you will — fandom, awe, glee — at the experience of pure magic. Case in point: Dries Van Noten’s collaboration with Christian Lacroix for spring.
In thinking about his collection, Dries Van Noten found himself drawn to the Eighties and Nineties, “to a love of dressing up, to couture, to beauty, to audacity — to joy,” he wrote in press notes. “I quickly realized that all roads seemed to lead to the work and world — of Mr. Christian Lacroix.” Van Noten thus picked up the phone. “Bonjour, Christian?”
How the conversation went is a topic for a sit-down chat on Thursday. But it resulted in a fabulous collection. By any measure the clothes were glorious, playing into the ode to joy that started in New York and has emerged as a leitmotif of the season. As a collaborative piece, the show proved a deft comingling of two aesthetics with a common ancestor somewhere in the creative bloodlines. That gene, for the fearlessly rendered decorative inclination, ultimately mutated differently — Lacroix’s, toward romantic theatricality and Van Noten’s, urbane sophistication.
Here, they came together in a fusion that was distinct from the sum of the parts yet with the signatures of both designers on clear view. Lacroix is an extraordinary, if now long dormant, couturier; his collections were breathtaking, transportational extravaganzas of storybook wonder. Yet especially in ready-to-wear, his daywear often looked too period-piece to transition to reality. Van Noten is a master at creating strong clothes for strong women to wear day-in, day-out. As a result, his is a rare fashion identity — mainstream designer with a cultishly devoted clientele obsessed with his consummately modern, controlled flamboyance.
Here, to satiate his yearning for “more,” Van Noten let loose under the influence of Lacroix’s exuberant joie du fantasy. In turn, Lacroix’s lavish signatures took on real-world resonance in the context of Van Noten’s chic sportswear sensibility. The show opened with an almost clean slate: a black, high-collared jacket tied at the waist with a black ribbon over white pants, a wide ribbon print running down one leg. The black ribbon introduced Lacroix’s hand; it was a recurring theme in his work. So, too, the puffed sleeves on the black peplumed jacket of look number two. Only here, the jacket appeared in a state of semi-dishevelment over a white tank (a key item throughout) and sheer feathered skirt over briefs. These telling teasers signaled what would develop as a spirited conversation between non-minimal simplicity and overt extravagance.
Either way, a wonderfully casual attitude prevailed; part of Van Noten’s brilliance is his ability to achieve an aura of ease even via highly ornamented goings-on. While Lacroix was never known for ease, here, all of his signatures — the ruffles, the polka dots, the embroideries, rococo broaches, the 18th-century references, for goodness sake — were on full flagrant display, each one looking the relaxed essence of 2020. For example, his extravagant fabric interactions showed up in a delightful mockery of spare parts: brocade puffed sleeves attached to a red-and-black top over orange-and-black-printed mini. There were embroidered spencer jackets over sporty underpinnings, and one of the collection’s most buoyant minglings of haute and sportswear references — a gray sweatshirt over a big floral skirt.
Throughout, plays of black and white (some simple, some not) interrupted the color euphoria, while daywear morphed into ebullient evening clothes that looked at once over-the-top and manageable. Meanwhile, some pieces gave into glorious confusion — those billowing coats falling off the models’ shoulders — opera or stadium fare? Depends on the woman and the moment.
As a creative statement, the collection wowed. And so it should at retail, packed as it was with clothes, clothes, and more clothes, from extravagances of ruffles and poufs to spare, streamlined wardrobe-builders. As a design experiment, it was fascinating, a rare example of two major (nonpartner) designers working together at this level. To that end, for those who remember Lacroix on the runway, his presence made for the best kind of renaissance — one devoid of nostalgia because everything looked so right for right now. A tour de force of collaborative magnificence.