"The milkman always delivers." That was Steve's sagely reply, when I was trying to explain to him why it felt odd to put Dries van Noten's S/S 13 and his most recent A/W 13-4 collections up there in my own personal top of the collection charts as it were. The thing is, van Noten does exactly that. Delivers. Always. There's no angst-ridden pre-show anticipation or critical divisive battles post show with his collections. He just always seems to get it spot on from inspiration source to catching the tide of a mood current to the final execution of garments, which is ultimately what matters. To compare van Noten with a milkman though does this quiet Belgian no justice though. An experimental head chef might be a better comparison as he mixes up genres in his pot each season, coming up with contrasts that might well have been explored before, but emerge on to the plate in their most potent and appetising form, ready to delight us diners. I might be taking that analogy too far but you get the idea.
Take a quick gander at his grunge-fuelled, floral-fettered S/S 13 collection for instance. We bewailed Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent this season for diving head-first into grunge. The season before though, van Noten merely dipped his hand into grunge, and lifted out traces and whispers of plaids, sifted through the washed out florals that once graced Kurt Cobain and his followers and derived a finely attuned palette of sludgy pastels from faded record covers and banged up floral Dr Martens boots. By carefully selecting and sifting though, he came up trumps with his take on grunge that feels refreshed, rather than rehashed. Another style chapter can be added to this short-lived yet storied musical genre, but it's one that van Noten can call his own. Six months on from the show and I'm still sort of flummoxed by how he though to render plaids in chiffons, in metallic silver and in satins. Or how he made a kimono robe look like they might pop up on the Tube on yer' everyday commuter. Or how he made me want to run around in the summer summer wearing only his sort of mumsy Argos catalogue bedspread florals. After ingesting all of what S/S 13 had to offer, it came down to a lasting desire to inhabit these clothes.
Just as i thought S/S 13 couldn't be a more perfect contrast-fuelled and nuanced Dries van Noten collection, then came A/W 13-4. Night and day. Fred and Ginger. Man and woman. Come on! Hasn't the masculine feminine contradiction thing been done over and over again? Haven't we eked out everything we can do from that contrast? It seems not. In a season when menswear codes and fabrics were repurposed a great deal throughout the collections, van Noten offered up one of the most tangible solutions. Collegiate stripes would fray into decadent fringing. Crombie coats with the collars up would come embroidered with paisley swirls. Ostrich feathers fit for ballroom boas would come bouncing off off of Duke of Windsor-appropriate grey check or bustle around in a frou frou skirt but paired with a crisp white shirt. Sharon Stone's Oscars Gap shirt avec Vera Wang lilac satin skirt moment comes to mind. Delicate and furry mohair socks. Mannish brogues and trousers with a splay of feathers. The clash mashes go on and on in this deliciously rich collection. I've never twinkle toed my way around a ballroom before but this collection with its many hybrid odes to the great dancing partners of yesteryear certainly put me in the mood for a spot of two step.