Dries Van Noten’s digital Autumn/Winter 2021-2022 menswear show is, like the past twelve months, a little bit stressful. A fixed camera trained on a patch of sky at dawn. We are looking up, past wide steps, at a grand stone entrance, a frame from which models materialize, from dawn to dusk, to take a couple of steps down to the viewer, before disappearing again. Where are we? The stone of the building seems institutional, grand, noble. But why have we been deprived of context? Are we inside that kind of institution? The anxiety swells as daylight appears, then fades, until finally the label’s beautiful evening wear heralds the close of the day. It is an all too familiar feeling of confinement.
A significant proportion of the collection reckons with the familiar compromises of this confinement. To its credit, Dries does not attempt the contrived undergarment positivity present in other menswear collections this season (see Fendi; Prada). Even so, some will view the blended work/casual pieces with the weary recognition of familiar asylum uniforms. We have here boyfriend sweatshirts, office shirts stretched to dress length (the Zoom surprise), oversized friar’s hoodies and loafers in a swollen leather that gives them the look of downmarket Christmas gifts.
It is perhaps telling, however, that the most groomish look, an oversized knitwear cardigan and matching shorts, is complemented by one of the fixtures of the collection, mid-calf length knit socks. The effect is of a cut or (rather sexily) exploded trouser, a casual at-home fixture destroyed in a peal of rage or inspiration.
Because this is a hopeful show, too. The instrumental soundtrack—overlapping sounds of a clock, metronome, and the desperate banging of a captive—by Belgians Thierry de Mey and Peter Vermeersch is entitled “Eerste Beweging:” first movement (new beginning?). Against darkened skies the models appear before the viewer in shadow, almost as Platonic forms, creatures who still move in the outside world, who see truth. Divine Uber delivery-drivers? We will emerge one day, this show seems to say. And when we do, we have work to do, a world to fix. And we’ll do it in beautiful tailoring.
Dries fans will snap up the dressier jackets and trousers—cinctured beautifully by a smart chain and circle buckle belt—in the familiar varsity colours of his AW collections, but in much wider cut and higher waist than last year. These are contrasted in the collection with a gorgeous cropped trouser, styled brilliantly with oversized tops and coats. The leather version is a must buy.
The miserly Uncle in us is tantalized by the fabric per dollar proposition of the generously cut denim in this collection, as well as the utility of pairing with chunkier jackets. Their flowing, straight tailoring provides the additional benefit of moving beyond the ‘90s ( industry) or ‘70s (Gucci) silhouettes. A buy.
Dries collectors will snap up the lovely zodiac embroidered jackets, no matter their inexplicable presence in this show. The turtlenecks, of lovely print and pattern oughtn’t be seen solely as a gesture to at-home wear. Diehards will recognize them as a fundamental part of his explorations of layering and draping. See for example, AW 16-17. Old boys will also have their eye on the black leather/rubber hybrids, in both boot and lace-up versions, both buys, and a mainstay of the gyungyun wardrobe labyrinth since the mid 2000s.
The leather loafers, a big part of the collection, were initially rated a pass. Jonathan Anderson has been doing versions of these the last couple years. On closer examination, they are, as ever, intelligent and desirable. Skip the rubber soled version and buy the elegant leather split sole, with a practical elasticated ankle and cool chunky heel tab. We would still pass on the pillow bags, however, which are currently in favour at Lanvin and Bottega Veneta. The mixed leather finish backpack and tote, reminiscent of the “giant pocket” trench from Lagerfeld’s SS19 Fendi (womenswear) show, are the outstanding accessories.
Gyungyun tends to wait until sales on the casual art-inspired print pieces. Unfortunately, these tend to be copied quickly and quite explicitly by other labels, in some cases the inspiration for whole labels, and are heavily inventoried by Western online merchants who have picked up and popularised Dries in the last few years. This comes at the expense of the suiting, which rarely translates well to third party merchant models and styling. A shame, since there is no better value casual suiting for originality, fabric, and price in ready to wear.
Dries is the anti-”drop” (“dump” as our house style manual would have it) label. It is only by handling in-person the fabric, construction, and more discreet prints from Dries that one can appreciate the house’s profound singularity, its emphasis on merit beyond the algorithmic winners of a phone screen, and, by extension, the achievements of this season. Here’s hoping for an in-person examination.