Many designers seem to be running into difficulty over how to approach women this Fall, dividing their collections schizophrenically between sober-sided sellers and artistic gestures of the sort they hope magazine editors will put on their pages. Dries Van Noten has no such conflicts: He doesn't have to cast about for a "realistic" attitude because that, and never made-for-editorial fireworks, is what his business is based on.
It's given him the authority to respond to the times with a relaxed elegance that many women will identify with. It boils down to simple suggestions: an easy-fitting blazer to slip over a blouse and fluid pants; a draped day dress; a sweater to wear over a long skirt for evening. The show opened and closed with belted camel coats (an item that might turn out to be the sartorial symbol of this recession's sudden shift in aesthetics), but the strange color combinations in between threw off any feeling of dullness. Van Noten had taken the shades of Francis Bacon's paintings—shrimp pink, beige, ocher, orange, and mauve—and deployed them in a way that gave life to pieces that might have seemed boring in other hands.
While there was nothing overtly retro in it, the undercurrent was of the day-to-day glamour women in Europe and America mustered for themselves while facing the privations of World War II. It was there in the horn-rimmed sunglasses and the Eisenhower jackets, and the template of making the best of oneself in "good" simple clothes, with a slash of orange-red lipstick to keep up morale. All that was subtly reinforced by the long, streetlike runway, which was reflected in a two-story-high mirror that gave an angled overhead view, as if from an office-block window: an impression of a legion of city women pressing on with their lives, come what may.