Lust for Life. Iggy Pop’s classic played loud on the soundtrack at today’s Dries Van Noten show. How apt - this was an enthusiastic upbeat collection dedicated to consolidating past work, spotlighting signatures, while looking to the future with optimism and curiosity. The show took place beneath train tracks in a former tunnel, now a cavernous car park, on Rue de Vaugirard - committed fashion week attendees will remember the designer showing there for Autumn/Winter 1993 (menswear) and for Autumn/Winter 1996 (womenswear). But it’s apt that Van Noten is glancing backwards. He started his business in 1986 - so this year marks his 30th anniversary in business. What an achievement. All these years later and both his optimism and focus remain.
This collection was something of a ‘greatest hits’ show. Certainly not because Van Noten was feeling nostalgic, but instead due to an interest in rekindled designs from past collections that feel even more relevant today. It was also, more broadly, about the greatest hits of menswear in general. This was a celebration of the best pieces out there, the staples - great tailored coats, great jeans, great fair isle knits, great boots, great puffas. Backstage Van Noten explained how, in a relatively rare occurrence, he wasn’t so interested in thinking about textures, textiles or surfaces for A/W 17, instead he was thinking about shape and form - about building a super modern wardrobe for today’s man. When the first look appeared, some took one look at those broad shoulders and quipped ‘Dries does Demna’ - a reference to the bulky square silhouette that the Balenciaga and Vetements designer has popularised. Van Noten smiled at the suggestion. ‘That coat is actually from 2008,’ he said knowingly, explaining that he’s redone it every few years since it first appeared. Not because of laziness, he smiles, but because it continues to feel relevant. That coat is a symbol for Van Noten's greatest skill - the confidence of sticking with an idea if it’s a good one and not bowing to pressure to churn out pointless ‘newness’.
One of the most warming aspects of the show were the slogans that paid tribute to many of the suppliers and manufactures that Van Noten has built such strong relationships with over the years. Fashion today is full of silly slogans and pithy, pointless text and wording - fodder for a generation who get off on a snappy social media status or meme quip. Van Noten’s slogans has true depth - ‘Toki’ and ‘Marling and Evans’ were two examples. The former is a Tokyo-based atelier who have kept alive the same weaving techniques for 100 years, the latter a celebrated British purveyor of lamb’s wool fabrics since 1782. These shoutouts were a reminder that beyond the catwalk show, and well beyond the front row and the social media melee, there are real people, real talents, precious experts, who make fashion happen. Van Noten’s style is never aggressive or pointed, this was a gesture of support not provocation - but, on reflection, it read like a much needed reminder of what, or who, is the driving force behind great clothes. It’s not the stylists, or the star designers, or the celebrities who sit pretty - it’s the makers. Van Noten sliced through the hype and showed something with soul - just like he’s been doing for the past 30 years.