For Autumn/Winter 2009, much of Paris is divided into two broadly encompassing camps: the all-singing all-disco-dancing hordes of more-is-more glitter-drenched hedonists, and those championing the rather less extreme or escapist maxim of stealth wealth and anti-ostentation. It isn't difficult to guess which of these two schools Dries Van Noten subscribed to. He tapped into the idea of simple but sensual, relying on luxurious material, texture and faultless cut to make its impact. In the past Van Noten has trod the well-worn ethnic road, or clashed and bashed prints to make his ensembles resemble the clumsy, kooky and stylistically wayward garb of a well-off Home Counties geography teacher, but last season his collection stunned, raising the bar for sophisticated and classically chic French dressing in the most ravishing fashion. If that collection was quintessentially French, this seemed to be speaking polished tones of Italian: how else to count for Van Noten opening his collection with an easily-cut flowing camel-hair coat? As always, his colour palettes and choice of textiles were exquisite and unexpected, a single outfit juxtaposing black-blue crocodile blouson, burgundy sweater, celadon-green trousers and python clutch. That python appeared again as a trench and blazer, and as high-heels on every pair of tan court-shoes. If Van Noten's silhouette appeared loose, it was only because all others seem vacuum-pumped: fluid separates were rendered in single block-colours of jewel-like amethyst, emerald, copper and polished tan, his nubby wool and mohair overcoats cut with all the casual ease of dressing gowns. When his trademark print came, it was subdued, constructed from collaged and faded black-and-white images of flowers or oddly-subtle oversized sepia leopard-print laid onto loose silk dresses in fresh green, primrose and violet. There was even this season's ubiquitous strong-shouldered black trouser suit, although Van Noten cut the trousers lower in the crotch and wider in the harem leg to lend it the same soft elegance as this entire graceful and accomplished collection. On paper, it doesn't sound like much. But it was a joy to see.
Dries van Noten tapped into the idea of simple but sensual, relying on luxurious material, texture and faultless cut to make its impact.