Dries van Noten Men SS23

Our traditional staff confabulation about a new Dries van Noten men’s runway show was cut short this week. A sweeping assessment, lobbed into our group huddle by a passerby, gave us pause. Could we better this reading of the Belgian master’s latest Summer offering? 

“It looks like those TikTokers. You know, the boys.” 

We didn’t. Interns shifted on their heels. A senior (paid) game-changer asked for more. 

“They wear boots with big heels, and flared pants, or girls’ clothes. And dance.”

And probably it’s true that the most remarkable aspect of this show for an American audience, who pass hours, in the midst of the death of Roe v. Wade, of leisure and pleasure in TikTok self-study of queer art, is its overt gestures to androgyny. But the selection of girls’ clothes, and they were for girls—bodycon dresses; camisoles—are the least interesting of the show, lacking as they are remarkable colour, print, or pattern. In this respect, there is, like an automaker fitting a gratuitous coachwork embellishment or producing numbers of a colour for a special export market, a carelessness to the play with gender in this season which could fool a viewer unaware of a career studded with brilliant explorations of the limits of binaries. 

We live in a challenging moment, even for papers specialising in fashion criticism without the aid of label press-kits. Thus the unwelcome interjection about the inspiration for the show. We have had to let some of our office space to a cryptocurrency company fallen recently on hard times. The young man who offered us his reading was typical for his type: swaggering, touchy on matters of (his) giving offense, and devoted to declaring the root of a thing. In common with his colleagues (all paid), this cryptomaven displays a remarkable self-education in criticism which took our unpaid interns years, several degrees, debts, and much fuss over the Frankfurt School to learn. While gyungyun staffers query the why and how of culture and society, the cryptoboys skip right to the tenure-track, by a brilliant back-to-the-basics reversal: they question the what. On the topic of a recent global health concern, we were (sort of) asked: “Monkeypox. Do you think it’s real?”

Unwilling to yield to such a simple explanation for a show by a designer whose works have  reached such thematic heights as Romania, the Piano, and Gypsies, our staff set to work placing the show in context. It is, after all, a parade of hybrities, but one which, to the relief of the long-term fan hoping to add a piece to an established collection, offers plenty of familiar pieces. Set on a rooftop in Paris and accompanied by ominous masculine epic/conquest music, the models suggest the messy gender signalling at a fresh colonial outpost. 

We have the forever impressive tailoring in dark blues and deep blood reds, often pinstriped, occasionally with an all over print, shown brillianty here in a red double breasted suit with lighter floral pattern: a typical masterclass of cut and colour. But suits and long coats here are combined with unexpectedly casual components; a long tailored shirt, untucked with tie, its sleeves removed. A utilitarian trench coat is paired with wide checked trousers but also lacks sleeves, as if in improvised solution to an unexpectedly extreme climate. Formal attire is incomplete, disassembled, or, characteristic of a far-flung province, sacrificed to lust. 

Perhaps rather than a colonial outpost becoming, we are viewing its unravelling. A wonderfully double breasted blue pinstripe suit, on closer examination not quite matching, is thrown into further confusion by an exaggerated text print scarf, reproduced throughout the show-including a long blue jacket-as if from a cafe’s advertising hoarding, the rougher section of a football team’s supporters, or a political slogan. 

Recalling the Paris-Dakar desert rally, another travelling circus of masculine temporalities on-location, a third motif is the motocross or racing suit. Here, though, we have a study of what makes Dries van Noten special. Where another designer might repurpose a kind of ur-example of a racing suit by using an easily researched template, adjusting logos, and scaling back colour to create a cheap irony, these pieces are much more closely integrated into the world of the designer. Leisure pants styled on moto prints in this show use, it’s true, some of the more garish aughts vernacular prints of the genre, but they are lightly feminised in a prettified pattern, or reproduced in a deliberately incorrect quilted fabric familiar to fans of the label. The most effective example of this series is a shining sequined bomber with contrasting dark blue cuffs. The activewear print is transformed by a slight magnification of pattern, gorgeous colour, and the jewel-like effect of the material. Smart. 

The Dries van Noten die-hards among us have bristled the last spring seasons at an encroaching collage print. It makes use of a deliberately under-styled (for Dries) pattern, like a piece of handsome upholstery or curtain fabric. Not quite of the sumptuousness or detail typical of the brand, these are applied in a collage effect, as if fabric samples have been tossed onto a floor for consideration. In t-shirts, long tunics and scarves these seem to us a rare misstep. We found most comestible in this group a parka, where just two contrasting prints are given space to develop their colour. It looks like the flag of the US state of Maryland. 

The show’s themes are reducible to its best look. A femininely-fitted light black sweater with a uniquely notched deep v-neck shows a simple, gender-contrasting maroon diagonal varsity stripe. So far so hybrid. The pants are of the best print of the show, a luminescent red feather on a darker red background, cut in a slightly oversized fashion amplified by the fitted top. A thick belt doesn’t match either, its palette somewhere between the top and the pants, which of course means it harmonises brilliantly, which is not to speak of the buckle, since it asks not to be seen. It is a gorgeous anti-logo belt, relying on a perfection of shape and harmony with the tailoring, the meeting of slim top and heftier pant, reflected in the large shape of the buckle which is cleverly made from a thinly shaped metal. Completing the look are the exquisite black top-leather mules which are a highlight of the collection. We don’t need all the looks of this latest show, but we anticipate snapping up this complete look, which is timeless and fluid Dries van Noten.