Dries Van Noten may be the most popular of the Belgian designers showing in Paris this season. As proof, where others are happy to pull in the gaggle of Vogue editors running around town, Van Noten had the legendary Iris Apfel sitting front row this morning; which by itself, even if no one else had shown up, should say something about the quality of this collection. Ms. Apfel wasn’t the only one there, though. Weeks before the show, Van Noten was getting attention because of the hand-painted invitations created by Gill Button. Done in black watercolor on tan parchment, Ms. Button created a unique look for each of the 1200 invites that featured the dark, smudged eyes we would see today on the catwalk. Van Noten could have sent trash bags down the runway today and the invitations would still be one of the most talked about things in Paris.
There were no trash bags, however, and I doubt anyone was disappointed in this collection. Van Noten is obsessive about his fabrics (he has a warehouse in Antwerp with thousands of rolls) and that obsession was obvious in the very precise way he pulled together stripes and solids and just the right leopard print for a collection with 1930s masculine collegiate silhouettes, a taste of old-world glamour bathed in opulence. There is nothing remotely casual about this collection. Every ensemble speaks not merely to wealth but to one’s taste in the finer things.
As such, he starts the collection with a pair of silk leopard print trousers over which he places a white shirt with collegiate-type emblem (think more Oxford than Harvard or Yale), a tux vest on which only the top button is fastened, and a dark, well-tailored jacket with a feathered collar around the neck. The look is one of refinement and prestige. This is the spirit of the entire collection and it never lets up. There are masculine silhouettes throughout, leopard prints on a variety of different fabrics and textures, including furs, mesh vests over men’s four-in-hand ties, more luxurious capes, and nylon opera gloves that look rather like one is wearing a pair of stockings on one’s hands.
We also see in this collection a lot of collegiate-styled stripes which were immensely popular for men’s wear during the depression era 30s, specifically among the elite and privileged students of the Ivy League schools. While the working class wore denim dungarees, those more fortunate found stripes a very sure way to communicate their social standing. Here, too, Van Noten keeps them looking very sharp, well refined, pairing them with matching ties and beautifully knit cardigans. There were times when I almost felt as though models might leave the runway and immediately mount polo ponies for a quick match on the lawn.
I was a little surprised that Van Noten kept the theme going even when the collection entered its evening wear phase. In addition to some beautifully tailored sequined gowns, there’s a textured gold tuxedo cut suit that is extremely impressive and certainly turned a few heads. Touches of gold stay throughout the rest of the collection, again playing to that feeling of wealth and opulence.
If there was anything that didn’t quite fit it was a very brief detour into polka dots, some of which were rather large and almost clownish. Given the upper-crust air of the collection, those pieces felt more like something one’s least favorite uncle might wear to a Labor Day barbecue. Smaller polka dots weren’t quite as bad, and on their own, away from the other pieces, none of them were horrible. They simply felt out of step with everything else presented.
Dries Van Noten has designed a beautiful line of clothes for those who want to look rich, whether they actually are or not. Of course, if one is not rolling in cash, a second mortgage might be required to actually purchase one of these ensembles. None of these clothes are going to come cheap, nor should they. This is a lovely, well-refined collection for women with good posture and a solid understanding of who they are.