Friday, March 1, 2019

Dressing the embattled at Dries van Noten and Chloé

Dries van Noten’s rose that grew from concrete blossomed into a gorgeous flower. No, the Belgian didn’t list Tupac Shakur’s ‘The Rose That Grew from Concrete’ as an influence for autumn/winter—more Gertrude Stein’s “a rose is a rose is a rose”—but his autumn/winter 2019 show at Paris Fashion Week on Wednesday night did open with a smattering of melancholic grey tailoring. This fed into a beautiful panoply of faded hues in soft silks, luxurious furs, and fabulous floral-print puffer jackets. 

Everything started with photographs of flowers from van Noten’s garden in his native Belgium. Roses, shot salvia, delphiniums, the list goes on. It wasn’t so much the beauty that fascinated the designer but the impurities he found. The world is full of imperfection of all kind—from political tumult to civil unrest, from societal angst about the state of affairs to the uncertainty of what lies ahead. It’s why this collection was pervaded with sombre undertones. Models clasped puffer-style stoles and clasped their jackets shut with a protective intent. His women, so sublimely dressed for impending doom, looked strong in their readiness, responding to gloom with gorgeous layers.

This collection’s strong points: floral-printed puffer jackets which felt particularly unordinary coming from Dries van Noten collection but they made sense. The Belgian is a purveyor of beautiful clothing but he’s not ignorant to the world around him either. Without sacrificing his identity, he offered protective layers that were loaded with his decorative touch as they were the underlying principle of practicality. The comfort-providing roomy silhouettes of knitwear and silk dresses, ditto. To truly ground oneself in a time of unrest. One might favour his line-up of greyscale pinstripe tailoring. Leave it to van Noten to dress the embattled.

Or look to Lemaire’s eponymous Christopher Lemaire and his design partner, Sarah-Linh Tran, who posited on sophisticated tailoring. Similar to van Noten, this was a dependent wardrobe ready for road. At Lemaire, things are empowering without having to spell ‘Feminism.’ Reliable clothes do the talking and such a simple gesture is a balm in troubled times. 

Natacha Ramsay-Levi, now in her second year at Chloé, produced marvellous results with a similar idea in mind. Her women are destined for the real world too. She was one of the many designers to offer condolences to the late Karl Lagerfeld, dedicating the collection to him. Lagerfeld designed at the house for 25 years. Her show notes came with a quote from the German designer, most famous for his time at Chanel, which captures the essence of the Chloé spirit, past and present. “My dresses are for women who go beyond the obvious… They’re made to transform everyday life into a fairy tale, to create an atmosphere at every moment.” 

41 years later, Ramsay-Levi is at the helm. The everyday life she imagines consists of slim-fit trousers, unstructured coats, weightless dresses and beaucoup de pattern and denim. She builds on the language of French style—which she speaks so effortlessly—subtly, adding minor details: funnel-neck blouses with ribbed wool accents; asymmetric skirts with button-up detailing; adding utility pockets to fitted trousers. They’re hardly revolutionary concepts but they’re clever and perfunctory. 

This season, she didn’t raise the stakes but she pushed things along nicely. It’s okay to take things a little slower: we might as well while we still can.

Images: Vogue Runway

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