There's often been a touch of the dowdy seventies geography teacher to Dries Van Noten's output over the years - the clashing print, the deliberately off colouring, the fabrics hewn to resemble household upholstery from the decade that taste forgot, That's not a critique, it's simply an observation. Van Noten himself can be too afraid of those allusions: for Autumn/Winter 2011, he blasted Bowie on the soundtrack and sent out his models in a hodgepodge patchwork that wouldn't have looked out of place on Shelley Duvall in 'The Shining'.
Of course, that's a glib pop culture reference. The really crafty thing about Van Noten's really crafty things is that they tap perfectly into next season's predilection for the seventies, whether than be the folksy clunk of Duvall or the sleek suiting of the Thin White Duke. Backstage, Van Noten tossed out the obligatory sound bites about Diagliev and Dave and Ange circa 'Heroes' as a way of grounding his collection in something journalists can wax lyrical about. And you could see echoes of Diagliev in those prints. A marbled pattern in a Raoul Duffy palette of brick-orange and lapis jumped out, but frankly there was a riot of contrasts, from Bridget Riley Op-Art swirls (more sofa-seat when rendered in orange and brown) through fragmented florals, sometimes scattered with oriental embroidery (Scheherezade, anyone?). The sleek lines of the garments beget the Bowie references, tailored nip-waisted jackets, pencil skirts under slouched sweaters, and some of the best coats we've seen all season, in dark-on-darker contrasts lined in rabbit-fur. A sequence in gold brocade leapt of the catwalk - the best a wide-leg trouser-suit bulked out (but not much) with a fuzzy lining.
Those seventies references permeated some of the cocktailwear too, with Koos Van Den Akker-style patchwork mottling the surface of simple, bell-sleeved little tunic dresses. Scratch that, they weren't simple, they were simplistic - a little too reminiscent of a bog-standard beginner's-level McCall's dressmaking pattern for the rest of the collection. They were a canvas for the prints, we get the picture, but one couldn't help but feel the seasoned fashion eyes of Van Noten's ever-growing audience could cope with something a little bit more sophisticated. That said, there was nothing unsophisticated about the tailoring, or the drop-dead simple evening dresses, pillow-case tops trailing into slit-front skirts in a melange of print. That was the kind of simple that's fiendishly difficult to pull off, but Van Noten managed it with aplomb.