Dries Van Noten still hasn’t returned to the runway format. But this season, he delivered a full experience. For autumn-winter 2022, the Belgian designer hosted a mannequin presentation at the dilapidated Hotel de Guise (in this mansion belonging to an old French family, the clock apparently stopped 50 years ago). Grouped in paneled rooms, the liveless models were staged in various scenes: as if in conversation, leaning watching over bannisters, lurking in a bathroom, glimpsed in a closet, standing on tables or suddenly, disconcertingly, seated on the attic stairs. In other words: this was Dries Van Noten in his element, curating an interior environment instead of a fashion show. It was the perfect setting for absorbing the novel shock of suddenly being able to see and touch the richly layered textures of his collection again – and to sense a distinct frisson of darkness and perversity in the air. The event was also a launch of Van Noten’s perfume and lipstick line, which in the end made even more sense. The invited editors could completely immerse in Dries’ world, from the garments to the senses. What about the new season clothes? They all looked sumptuous: the animal print coat layered over deep crimson silk-velvet trousers; glam holographic sequins with denim trousers and a wildly nubbly wool scarf; 1940s dresses dripped with lines of stones and additionally enriched with opulent, vintage-style jewelry.
Had he found himself designing more intensely, more richly, during the closed-in times? “No.” Van Noten replied. “It is always like this. You just never see it when it’s up on a runway.” He’s been one of the increasingly few hold-outs against convening physical shows this season – and one of the few who really adapted to exercising the creative possibilities of fashion filmmaking. Using the half-way house of this expressive presentation was something else, fully playing into his multiple talents as a curator of exhibitions, antique interiors aficionado, gardener (which connects with the perfumes) and being the Belgian guy with the Antwerpian memories of alternative parties in the ’70s and raves in the ’90s. He makes a very good point: “I think it’s that whole tactile moment. It’s not that I don’t want to go back to fashion shows, because I think it’s another thing, but this is really nice to experience. This way of presenting creates closeness; the fact that you can explain things, touch things, see things. You can stage it so that you can tell more stories than in a fashion show. So for me, it was a very interesting way of thinking.” So, to the “story.” Van Noten had been researching the work of Carlo Mollino, the Italian architect and photographer whose life spanned surrealism and the ’70s. “After he died, erotic Polaroids he had taken of women, nude and semi-dressed, were found in his apartment.” Look them up, and you find how Van Noten had come up with the maxi-coat shapes, the leather chokers, the ‘kinky’ lace-up boots. He also put his finger on another popular ’70s cult object – a down-padded, Charles James-like jacket with a deep tubular edge. Puffy volumes gone glamorous, circle shapes and other extreme geometries are part of the avant-garde news from Paris. Somehow, while staying within his own world, speaking to his own customers and bringing his whole character to creating his beauty/lifestyle lines, Dries Van Noten still has ways of clocking what’s happening outside.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.