His most recent women's collection marked his 50th runway show, and Dries Van Noten celebrated it in breathtaking styleso breathtaking he insisted the only way he could move forward was with a back-to-basics presentation. Hence the two bare lightbulbs on the catwalk that greeted the audience as they arrived at his fall menswear show. Illuminated by this stark lighting scheme, Van Noten's models paraded to a voice-over of two lovers reviewing their relationship, the words taken from novelist Paul Auster. It was an audacious concept that didn't quite work: the crowd was hearing the thoughts of seasoned adults, while the models embodying those sentiments looked scarcely old enough to have had sex with anyone other than themselves.
The clothes, though, almost carried the day, as Van Noten confirmed his status as the mix master of pattern, texture, and fabric. At its most extreme, that meant a shaggy fake-fur topcoat over blue leather motorcycle pants or the theatricality of a passage that involved big coats and gaudy silk ties. In more classic Dries mode, it entailed a Jacquard sweater and plaid trousers under a windowpane-check overcoat. The designer has always imagined a customer who travels, so there were the expected ethnic flourishes: embroidery on a shirt collar and placket and a Mexican pattern on an oversize cardigan. Meanwhile, the worn quality Van Noten treasures was more than evident in washed-cotton trousers with padded knees and jackets shrunk to fit their wearers.