You can tell a lot from a fashion show by the soundtrack it's set to: whether it's the edge of the designer evoked by an experimental electronic soundscape, the 'couture' pretension of incongruous piped-in classical music, or indeed the absence of any music at all (the latter usually means shades of the late great YSL). At Dries Van Noten, the soundtrack was created by Godfather of Punk Malcolm McLaren, combining chamber music, Hitchcock themes, and for the second time this season, dissonant throaty war-cries. If the music was a mash-up, the collection followed pretty much the same remit, juxtaposing elements of punk, couture and militia in endless combinations. The couture came through, as always, in Van Noten's exquisitely judged fabrics, embellishment and prints - delicate, chintzy foliate patterns strewn across silk-satins, silver ethnic embroidery, and the bubbly textures of fifties favourites like cloque and mattelasse. Indeed, it seems couture was the main thrust of the collection, skirts alternating between billowing New Look and elegantly rake-thin, jackets exploding into a corolla of shape at the hip. As for the punk, it came through in the details: bristling buckles strapping easy trousers against the calf until they resembled jodphurs, military pockets and belts cropping up on those fit-and-flare shapes, and those chintzy prints taking darker abstract turns, coloured in deep khakis and navy as if dip-dyed. Other than flowers, leopard was Van Noten's print of choice - typical of the double-games within this collection, his collaged blouses, tautly-tied print mink scarves and short fur jackets managed to simultaneously conjur up images of Barbara Goalen and Nancy Spungen - not often a mix you oft hear referenced, but here it worked. What was the intention? To harden up, presumably. Those swathed and fabric-massed couture shapes he chose may have been soft, and likewise the tactile fabric - often with a layer of padding pinched between darts in his tailoring, both plumping the silhouettes and cushioning them against the world - but the overall effect was tough. Maybe it was all those military details, even extending to the predominant palette of black, olive and khaki (the later even coloured a couple of those foliate prints as if crusted by mud), or maybe it was those brittle, harsh couture silhouettes themselves, but whatever it was, it felt far tougher than we are used to from this quiet Belgian. At the same time, after last season's exotic excursion into ethnicity - and into prints that, however lovely, felt part of the past of both Van Noten and fashion - this latest outing was realistic and contemporary. With the mix of disparate elements Van Noten played with here, that's quite some achievement.
If the music was a mash-up, the collection followed pretty much the same remit.