Dries Van Noten claimed he was bringing together two key flavors of Fall—David Bowie and the Ballets Russes—in his new womenswear collection. When he sat photos of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust next to iconic images of Nijinsky dancing, he was struck by the similarities. But that was Dries alone at home with his thoughts. On his catwalk those inspirations were so thoroughly absorbed into a heady collage of color, print, and texture that specific references were irrelevant. Bowie gave Dries his song "Heroes" to remix for the soundtrack (2 Many DJs performed the honors), and its yearning surge set the tone. "Not heroic," clarified the designer, "but romantic. I think 'Heroes' is one of the most passionate songs ever, and I am passionate about this collection."
True, it was vintage Dries in the overwhelming feel for collage.
Where he has often taken us to other places, here there was a strong sense of other times, especially as that related to the collection's prints. There was some Russian constructivism here, some fifties AbEx there, a lather of seventies sheen, and a hit of Cecily Brown's paintings from the naughties. And we're talking all at once, which lent an energy to shapes that were as simple as a shirtwaist. Or were the shapes simple? A subtle asymmetry meant nothing quite balanced, which enhanced the off-kilter quality of the clashing prints.
Dries dedicated his collection to "a Liberal woman" (that is his capital L), and there was something of the spirited freethinker he imagines dressing in the mix. But this was one instance when show and collection were not quite in sync. Watching the actual physical presentation, the sense of restraint was dulling, especially with clothes the designer insisted he'd felt so passionate about. Even the gold—the brocades and jacquards from Lyon—was so muted it barely gleamed. However, to see the individual pieces up close was an entirely different experience. They came alive. The appliquéd snakeskin swirls on a skirt, the unfurling multilapels on a gilded jacket, the almost Gothic delicacy of a bonsai print. It's obvious that Dries is in the details.