In fashion month I hold my breath for Paris as long as I can. I hold it for the street style, and I hold it for the front rows, which are generally full of people like Clemence Poesy and Marion Cotillard and not, well, d-list italian soap opera stars or rock star progeny and radio djs. And I hold it for the shows. I actually hold it for three shows in particular. The first is Celine, for aspiration and inspiration and sheer sense of unitary purpose. The second is Isabel Marant, for real life, for cote d'azur summers, for endless glasses of rose. And the third is Dries Van Noten.
It's funny, I don't own a single piece of Dries Van Noten. Not the one. I've toyed with a few - namely bits and bobs from what is actually my favourite collection of all time which, not coincidentally, was also my favourite season of all time, f/w 10-11, Phoebe Philo's first foray at Celine and the season of Isabel Marant's first woolly Bator coats with deep pockets - sleeveless trenches and silk skirts and cropped sweatshirts with tie-cinch waists. I've flirted ostentatiously and without success with those dip-dyed jeans and jackets. I've wanted so much but the timing and the bank balance has always been wrong. But, unlike with other brands, where I get the feeling of buy no or regret it later, I never have that with Dries. Because I know that every successive season will be as good as the last, if not infinitely better. I know that those floral silks or digitally printed shirts that I was so enamoured of nearly 3 years ago will return (this season in grunge-tacular Tartan or watercolour splodge trousers). I know that the heavy brocade applique and attention to detail will re-emerge from the ether (this season on sweaters so glorious it is almost rude to call them sweaters, laden down as they are with puffs of silk organza flowers and strips of beading). I know that the shapes that the Dries girl loves; oversized sweatshirts with silk pants, boxy shirts with fitted skirts, dresses that trail at the back and slim-cut blazers that tuck into a-line skirts will never got old and never go away, because Dries uses them every season.
It's one of those funny chicken and egg scenarios, really, when you think about it. Is what Dries does so popular because it is in tune with a fashion model that resonates at the moment, or because Dries does it? I think the answer speaks for itself. In his entire career - all two decades of it and counting - he has been consistent in voice and tone and ideals. I think it's funny that the moment when he was least popular; in the 1990s, the heyday of heroin chic and tartan shirts tied around the waists of every cool girl and guy with greasy hair and ripped jeans, is the exact same moment which dominates this collection. But Dries has taken grunge and not only modernised it - the washed out colours, the masculine shapes paired with the feminine styling (classic court heels and red, baby, red lips!), that ineffable Dries way of mixing print and fabric and technique - but he has also rendered it even more cool than it was the first time around. Not everyone can do that. When designers delve into the past they either come up with costume or creation, it's always either purely referential on one hand or completely alternate on the other. What Dries has done, what he always does, what he excels at and what makes him so incredibly indispensable in this fashion world, is make a collection that was inspired by a moment that it both operates inside and outside of. This is the kind of thing that girls will wear today and in ten years, those screen-printed blazers with stripey tee shirts and ripped jeans and flat sandals as they stroll pass the Quai Malaquais (where Dries' best store resides). But it's also the kind of thing that Sadie Frost or Meg Matthews might have worn, those tartan pants with a holey sweatshirt, maybe, or a band tee shirt with the sleeves hacked off, curled up on a tatty sofa in Primrose Hill, smoking cigarettes through burgundy-stained lips.