It's always the quiet ones you have to watch. At the same time that Dries Van Noten, scholar and gentleman of the parish of Antwerp, noticed that the world had surrendered to the formalized glitz of television shows featuring infinite combinations of ballroom-dancing celebrities (on ice!), he and partner Patrick Vangheluwe became fixated on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing cheek to cheek in Top Hat, the 1935 classic that, in its dancing sequences, borders on purest ecstasy.
And that's how "Fred and Ginger" became the inspiration for Van Noten's new collection: classic embodiments of masculinity and femininity, subversively fused into one under fashion's umbrella. It's been a subtle theme of the season so far, but where other designers used fur to stand for the feminine, Dries said it with feathers, and that made the point so much more effectively. A deliriously mixed message was sent out by Van Noten's own favorite outfit—a mannish white shirt with a necklet of paste diamonds, navy skirt trailing plumes of ostrich anchored by crystal, over gray flannel pants. If it was barely matched by the daddy-huge cabled sweater over a varsity-stripe skirt that dissolved into flapper fringes (with crepe-soled oxfords as footwear), and the brocade skirt that feminized a plus-size overcoat and chunky knit (again, the paste diamonds, and this time, high heels with ankle socks), that's only because feathers trumped fringing and brocade on the Ginger scale. Froths of ostrich were a perversely glamorous counterpoint to the flat-shoed, gray-flanneled sobriety of the outfits they anchored.
But there was a sexy slouch to the result. It felt like a grown-up evolution of last season's grunge. So did Kid Koala's soundtrack, which synthesized the elegance of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" with the primal throb of Suicide's "Cheree." Dries had his own feelings about synthesis: "There are boys and girls, there is night and day, but above all there is love." Which is exactly what his audience today was left feeling.