PARIS, France — “Daring a little bit more,” said Dries Van Noten, “Losing control…a little.” That’s how the designer described his emotional input for a collection that worked startling contrasts to great effect: jet black and chrome yellow, Victorian mourning clothes and brilliant florals, lace and denim. If delicacy is something of a Dries signature, he claimed he wanted to brutalise it this season, inject more spontaneity.
There were glimmers of it in the rawness of unfinished hems, the Rorschach splat of floral appliques, the tumbles of jet beading, but what stood out most in the collection was a heady, decadent Japonisme. It was that yellow — the colour of the drawing room in the Soane Museum in London, the colour of the cover of the Yellow Book, the late 19th century journal art-directed by Aubrey Beardsley (who chose the shade because that’s what erotica used to come wrapped in) — which set the steamy mood.
Mind you, the steam also came from the heat of the venue. The catwalk was lined with huge obelisks of ice into which flower arrangements had been frozen by Japanese artist Makoto Azuma, like Victorian floral taxidermy. It was a visual tour de force to equal any of Van Noten’s past triumphs, but it gained even more power from its melting, its transience. The designer denied the heat had been turned up to hasten the process. It hardly mattered. What’s a little sweat in the face of such beauty?
The ice suggested time suspended. It’s the same thing Van Noten does with fashion. Centuries collided in this collection: a Victorian matron’s puff-sleeved blouse paired with a Manson girl’s raw denim skirt; a kimono wrapped over Bermuda shorts, constant juxtapositions of the formality of other times with the sloppy-dead magpie casualness of now.
It cut straight to the heart of the spirit of the show that the soundtrack included Madonna’s Frozen (those blocks of ice, obviously, but also her Gothic-black garb in the video) and Prince’s version of A Love Bizarre, the song he wrote for fabstress Sheila E. Sheila’s very particular style bubbled under some of the extravaganza. So don’t anyone ever go accusing Dries Van Noten of not having broad tastes.