PARIS, France — The invitation, with the show details printed black on black, promised nothing. But, when Dries Van Noten’s presentation was over, that studied blankness made more sense. Following 2017, a year in which he marked his 100th show with a major book and a documentary, he wanted us to see his future as a blank slate, “a fresh start” he called it, in the video released in lieu of the usual backstage interviews.
It wasn’t all that fresh, in that Van Noten utilized elements that have been part of his design repertoire for decades: tartans, checks, lavish embroidery, exotic colours, hints of punk, a typically ambiguous undertow in the trousers embellished with broderie anglaise. New this time was a marbled print, inspired by the papermaking artisans of Florence and Venice. It was a signature Van Noten synthesis of high culture and surface effect, and it yielded massive dividends when his print designer found a way to explode the whole notion through Photoshop. The show closed with 60 models in billowing nylon raincoats drizzled with marbled swirls of psychedelic colour. Coupled with graphics from Robert Beatty, who has designed trippy album sleeves for the likes of Tame Impala, it felt like Dries was staking yet another claim to the title of fashion’s unlikeliest psychonaut.
In his video, Van Noten insisted it was time to enjoy fashion and clothes, not take it all so seriously. He is often at his best when he hones and indulges his own escapist appetites. It would be lovely to say that was happening here, and, in the moment where you could take on board the fact that the Duke of Windsor’s tartan and Elvis Presley’s Memphis finery were sharing the same catwalk, it almost did. But with such potentially charming randomness (and with the suggestive psychedelia lurking), it was hard not to expect more. Maybe that’s the curse of the fresh start – and the blessing of the blank slate.