Dries Van Noten opens a career retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris next year, and, as part of the prep, he's been poking around in the museum's archives. Which is how he became absorbed by all the "pretty, but strange" flower prints he came across, even more so because they were elements of menswear over the centuries. That fit right in with Van Noten's project of late—the mutation of men's classics with the silken finery of feminine fabrics. So he got thinking about the men who'd worn flowers. They were an eclectic coachload: Louis Seize, Oscar Wilde, Jean Cocteau, Jimi Hendrix . Not just dandies, either. Van Noten included modern-day surf rats. "From one step to another step," he mused. "That's exactly how the exhibition is taking shape, too."
It may be a season of dark flowers in the world of menswear, but Van Noten edged his peers with a collection that thoroughly explored every possible permutation of the idea. Prints were derived from eighteenth-century rococo, scans of freshly cut blooms or Hawaiian gothic, and combined in unlikely silhouettes and fabrications. There was a delicate dévoré shirt, for instance, tucked into lustrous moiré trousers, then wrapped in a robe of purest kitsch. And a damask coat wrapping surf shorts and something sheer and floral.
Van Noten agreed there was defiance in the almost total domination of the flowers, or as he put it, "Seeing how far you can go with transparent shirts and dévoré and still be able to say, 'Hey man, this is men's clothes.'" There will be plenty of men who disagree with the designer on that point, but working on the retrospective for a year has probably made him more defiant, more about "the things I love, the things I come back to." This season, that meant the return of bullion embroidery, as a muted but rich decoration on waistbands, belts, a big military-ish coat. Wear it with floral surf shorts and you'd nail the spirit of the collection to the floor.
But eclecticism has always been Van Noten's calling card. The live soundtrack today was provided by drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. The designer wanted one instrument and, given how dark he felt his palette was, drums seemed suitably aggressive. And he thought the dark flowers would benefit from a gold backdrop—to match the bullion, too—so Santana drummed and the models walked against huge electric sheets of Mylar, spotlighted so they looked like water shimmering in sunlight. It was another typically gorgeous effect from a fashion showman who excels at them.