PARIS, France — Just when you thought you knew Dries Van Noten… he wanted an anthem as the soundtrack for his latest show, a piece of music that expressed a more freethinking time, way before the tyranny of social media turned ego to id. What he came up with was “Child in Time," a 1970 track by Deep Purple, English hard rockers with a vocalist to rival Robert Plant in the lung-searing vocal stakes. For 10.18 heady minutes, Ian Gillan’s shrieks and Richie Blackmore’s riffs turned the gilded stateliness of the main salon of the Town Hall of Paris into heavy metal nirvana. And, as peculiar as the choice may have seemed on paper, it was a bizarrely appropriate counterpoint to a powerful collection that also celebrated letting go.
The headiness was the key. “A free hand with a free spirit,” was its essence, according to Van Noten. The free hand drew day and night, with pen, ink and biro, for three months in Van Noten’s Antwerp studio to produce the kind of obsessively detailed doodles familiar to aficionados of Art Brut or outsider art. These spidery, feathery, looping, swirling geometries were then reprinted top to toe in ballpoint blue all over the collection. “Completely spontaneous motifs make you automatically think of those artists,” said Van Noten. “Things from their heart, without limitations from their brain.”
As for the free spirit, she was piling it on with unlimited enthusiasm as well. Van Noten focused on dramatic silhouettes, huge, gorgeous parkas, wide, ruched shoulders, swathes of feathers and fake afghan. It was brash, glam, connecting the excess of the 20s and 70s in that way that Dries has of creating hybrids of other times and places that prove seductive in this moment. And he didn’t shy away from the luridness of those earlier eras. Tie-dyed feathers and tinselly raffia disturbed otherwise relatively sober items. Their impact was subtly amplified by the colour in the models’ eyelashes and hair parts.