Freud's great unanswered question, "What does a woman want?" seems to be hanging over this round of collections, and it's already turned up some funny, off-beam stabbings around in the dark. Funny, that is, because isn't it obvious? What we want is a casual way of dressing that's also formal enough, new yet not ridiculously gimmicky, confident yet not egregiously aggressive, traditional in a comfortable way, yet also fresh in such a manner that we feel compelled to buy it. Well, let's hand it to Dries Van Noten for coming up with a personal squaring of all those apparently oh-so-difficult contradictions.
His collection was a serene piecing-together of classic menswear tailoring, washed-out military fabric, fifties and sixties ladylike shapes, and sweatshirting. The success was that he integrated all those elements in such simple, wearable ways that didn't scream "fashion." In almost every silhouette, there was a juxtaposition of something grand with something street. Jackets would have a tailored body with army-drill sleeves; a gray sweatshirt-material top would be worn over a rich brocade dirndl; a full-skirted shirtwaister would come in blue military fabric with a small turn-down collar unexpectedly embroidered with silver Indian thread. For evening, the most compelling look was the offhand shrugging on of a sloppy khaki knit over a long, slim magenta printed skirt dragging a small, romantic train.
The way the show reshuffled wardrobe elements most women might own was an inspiration—demonstrating how a casual trench would look great with a crocodile tote; ditto a fitted fifties cloque dress with a drab canvas doctor's bag, or a camel blazer with casual jodhpur-ish pants. Part of the impact is that Van Noten has found a way of presenting all this in a sustained and measured way on a long, long runway, which (no matter that this one was in the Baroque, gilded, chandeliered, and frescoed splendor of the Paris civic hall) ends up conveying the sense of women walking a city street. With their no-fuss hair and glamorous sunglasses, the models left the kind of believable, attainable impression that makes fashion look as if it's something we can all relax about for a change.