Dance It Out. Dries Van Noten AW21

For autumn-winter 2021, Dries Van Noten left the comfort zone of any kind of runway or simple look-book far, far behind. There’s something cathartic about watching rage, frustration, confusion, longing and separation being danced out on a darkened Antwerp stage in the film the designer produced. Naming the un-nameable feelings of lockdown life, it plays out in territory close to home, evoking both the Belgian fashion culture of the 1990s which Van Noten belongs to, and the visceral physical intimacy of how we relate to clothes. “I think we’ve passed the stage of pretending,” he said. “We’ve all gone through something really not nice together. There’s kind of a rawness and directness also – it’s real movements, it’s real emotions.” The film, under strict COVID conditions, was a pretty big production: a gathering of 47 dancers and models on the stage of the deSingel theater in Antwerp, filmed by the director and photographer Casper Sejersen. It’s dramatic and sexual, and we’ve got the most delightful Van Noten pieces, like glittery marabou-trimmed dresses, dark tailoring and print-splashed volumes. Maybe you don’t entirely see all the details, but somehow this isn’t a disadvantage – you certainly ‘feel’ those clothes. “It’s rare that I’ve seen so much emotional kind of things which have cropped up in the body. Nobody was just saying like, ‘Oh, let’s make a pretty move.’ I think one way or another, there was something on stage there that happened. You felt that people wanted to say something with their body, even the models, who after five minutes were dancing even better than some dancers. I think Casper really managed to put that into the video – you really feel that kind of intensity that everybody felt and shared in that moment.” In the digital age, the opportunity to show clothes in movement, in different situations, on different kinds of people, and getting at social situations way beyond the narrow conventions of shows has turned out to be far more exciting, he also adds. “Do we really want to go back at a certain moment to 50 girls in a row who are 16-, 18-years-old, with a perfect size? Anyway, for June and September I don’t want to even think about shows. I don’t know if I’m going to feel the need to do a fashion show. If we are going to do them, it’s not going to be in the same way as before. I think this time is over, and nobody has the need to see a circus like that again. I think there’s now a realness and intensity, with the videos and pictures, and the way that everyone is finding their way to express themselves. And I feel quite well with what we’re doing now.”

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Detox Moment. Dries Van Noten AW21

There’s a pattern in case of Dries Van Noten. After a couple of seasons full of bold colours, prints and embellishments, there comes a detox time, a sort of palette-cleanser. Men’s autumn-winter 2021 line-up is one of those more quiet, sober collections. And, of course, it’s delightful. On a preview call the designer said that his riotously colored last-season outing, plus the establishment of an effective home working strategy for his pattern-cutters, created the context for this reassessment of archetypal garments through new structures and fabrication techniques. Van Noten added: “It was really nice to be able to work on construction, on shapes, on volumes, rather than really bold colors and wild prints. It was about going to the menswear wardrobe staples, and trying not to leave them because I wanted them to be recognizable, but to look at their function, and the way you feel about some things that you think you know but which maybe you don’t.” To change the feeling demanded changing the garments. Shirts were elongated into dresses, jacket skirts and hoody hems lengthened, pant waists raised, shorts widened. Van Noten said these alterations and others in the exterior of his garments were made hand-in-hand with upgrades under the bonnet, “so it’s a pity that we don’t have the possibility of being able to touch them.” As an example he said a lot of the jackets were made in the lightest possible wool, which was lightly padded to give the appearance of structure alongside the feel of looseness and release. Similarly, T-shirts were fashioned in two layers between which delicate bolstering was inserted to create a crisp appearance while feeling slouchy. There was some pattern here, but of a type in sync with the thesis of the whole. Motifs used traditionally for ties were adapted, distorted, and upgraded for a new life across the collection. Especially attractive was a riotous botanical on a slim-fitting souvenir-style jacket above some double-dyed denim jeans and a pair of the slouchy, puffy, elastic-backed moccasins that were elsewhere topped with gaiter-like leg warmers. One point of connection across the collection were the gleaming metal rings used to secure belts, knits, and bags. This was a collection built to look sharp but feel soft – a fruitful reexamination of the essence of “essentials.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.