The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

These richly gorgeous Dries Van Noten styles made a jaded Paris audience lose its mind

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One in a series on the clothes that popped at Paris Fashion Week.

PARIS — The top was an extravagance of silver and bronze spangles. The skirt was a beautiful, chaotic mix of emerald sparkles creating crazy-colored leopard spots on a black skirt. The shoes were ruby velvet. Around the model’s neck sat a furry collar streaked in chestnut brown. And it was all glorious. It was hand over your credit card, cancel the cable, indulge yourself and revel in the pleasure of a kind of beauty that turns a mundane day into an occasion.

The fall 2016 collection from designer Dries Van Noten made fashion look easy. It erased all of the fretting about body image, diversity goals, retail delivery schedules and the democracy of social media.

The vision was a pleasure. It stoked desire.

This is what fashion is supposed to be. Easy.

Van Noten showed his women’s ready-to-wear collection Wednesday afternoon on the second day of this city’s fashion week. The show’s start took the audience off guard. With the light low and the runway illuminated by a narrow band of light, the first model began walking down the runway, seemingly the length of a football field, to the deep throbbing of bass.

What unfolded was a collection full of leopard prints and pearls. There were leopard print coats and furry pants; pearls were splashed across coats and jackets and hung over tops in a delicate web. Pearls wrapped around the heels of velvet boots. Spotted handbags dangled from the models’ hands.

Van Noten tailored trouser suits in warm, metallic gold and gilded the lapels of sleek black blazers in textured gold. Panné velvet glowed under the lights; masculine ties and silk robes had a sultry sex appeal; fringed gowns with dramatic trains added an exclamation point to the dream.

Before the last model made her exit, the crowd was applauding. When the designer emerged to take his bow, at least one guest shouted “Bravo!” Fashion’s usually stoic faces broke into a smile.

This reaction is far more uncommon than it should be. Why is it so hard to make and sell eloquent, moving clothes?

The fashion industry has over-complicated itself with countless demi-seasons, diffusion lines, a glut of accessories, and a hopeless devotion to retro this-and-that. Van Noten’s privately held company produces only two collections each year: one for spring and one for fall. He makes menswear, too. There are accessories that actually accessorize the clothes. They do not prop them up financially.

There is an honesty here that often goes missing in fashion. These are the clothes the designer will sell. They are not experiments or overpriced notions. They are not phantoms — products crafted to build an image or go into an advertising campaign.

Van Noten doesn’t really advertise. He has a respectable red-carpet presence. He has won awards. His work has been the subject of museum exhibitions. He is not an intellectual designer who aims to stimulate the mind but not necessarily the heart. His clothes cut straight to the emotions. They are an adrenaline rush.

The clothes are not inexpensive. One of those beaded dresses will surely be priced at a few thousand dollars. But compared with other brands of its ilk, where a T-shirt can be $500, they fall at the low end of the spectrum. And, as one American fashion director noted, the clothes are selling at a time when a lot of brands aren’t.

So as the fashion industry laments consumer fatigue and blames disappointing sales on clothes that arrive in stores too late — which is to say, months after their Instagram debut — here are clothes that will not arrive for months. But if history is a guide, people will wait. Breathlessly.


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