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Dries Van Noten's Optimistic Spirit

The designer inaugurated his next century of presentations by accentuating the positive: ornaments were garments, garments were ornament.
By
  • Tim Blanks
BoF PROFESSIONAL

PARIS, France — After the emotional sturm und drang of his 100th show, with its parade of fabulous faces from his past (and a handful of expensive travel arrangements!), Dries Van Noten was confronted by the challenge of how to inaugurate his next century of presentations. The first model in his first womenswear show for Spring 1994 walked on a white carpet wearing a slip dress. The first model in his fifty-first womenswear show for Spring 2018 also walked on a white carpet wearing a slip dress. That initially suggested Van Noten might have decided to hit the Restart button. But the clearest connection across the decades was actually the optimistic spirit in which the designer launched both collections. He's always felt it's fashion's job to reflect its environment, but with the world currently cast into confusing shadow, that reflection was too dark. So he chose to accentuate the positive.

The show glittered. The clothes featured filaments of it, the models’ eyes and lips were outlined in it, brocades scintillated with it. The glitter was a gorgeous expression of Van Noten’s optimistic pre-show manifesto: Ornament as garments, garments as ornament. Among the influences he namechecked was Tony Duquette, the Hollywood set designer whose stop-at-nothing approach to making his own environment more glamorous set a standard for glorious no-detail-too-small excess. And this collection’s leisured silken-kimono vibe indubitably drifted dreamily into Duquette country. But it was equally a Picasso painting "Femmes a leur Toilette", a cubist collage of wallpapers, that inspired Van Noten. It’s the least you’d expect from this designer, a skate across a sea of intriguing, half-sensed references. In his show notes, he brought it down to something as basic as this: “cocktails at five”. But once the cocktail hour turned six and beyond, anything could happen.

And it did, with a sensational graphic overstatement in the form of a huge printed silk square. Draped off the waist, slung off the bodice, stitched in tandem to make a dress, it brought the drama, the fluidity, the peculiarity that you want from Dries. And in the ingenious simplicity of its use here, it also highlighted his craftsmanship. So, in the end, Van Noten’s 102nd show (if you’re counting, there is an equal number of men’s presentations) did, in fact, reaffirm his blueprint for the future. He's feeling positive. Somehow, we have to do the rest.

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