Still We Turn To Ease

Relaxed shapes have always been key to Dries van Noten’s allure. But that does not mean it can’t be dressy

Dries van Noten is never confined by the limits that menswear oftentimes imposes on a designer. He carries on in his laid-back way that seems to be independent of what tradition expects and street style demands. It is not easy to place his aesthetics in the larger scheme of things, and it’s quite an expanse. He is not avant-garde, neither is he Brooks Brothers-prim. He does not make himself buoyant by hype nor is he moored to the post of the static. Yet, he is always able to produce pieces that straddles both ends—whatever ends—of the fashion divide. Which perhaps explains his appeal to old-school fashion editors and must-be-on-trend KOLs.

While other designers are rushing to produce skirts (and more skirts) for men, Mr van Noten is taking this modern merchandising necessity quite in his stride. For the current season, he keeps to the two legs of pants, but over them, he slips on fitted tube dresses, if you will, that work like super-wide cummerbunds (“corsets”, as some writers describe them, are, to us, too constricted). Baju Melayu (Malay costume) wearers may recognise them as how guys wear the kain samping (also known as “merchant cloth” or a short sarong worn over the Malay tunic and trousers), rolled to secure it just below the chest. While the kain samping is most used for ceremonial wear or formal dress, Mr van Noten’s whatever-you-call-it has an ease about it, even when teamed with a suit. It’s like wearing an apron.

We know that Mr van Noten does not shy away from ethnic touches (even flourishes), but we doubt this is his intent for the collection, shown at a rooftop carpark (do they have those in Paris?), that has to speak to sartorially expressive men, even if they’re not peacocks. His use of colour—that dusty pink!—is always winning and his mix of prints remain a desirable strength. Oriental motifs are juxtaposed with sporty stripes, foliage with gradated dots, bold text in san-serif font with patchwork of all the print types that Mr van Noten is fond of: The mix is lively, even fresh, when compared to the ‘dirty’-looking fabric treatment that is gripping Paris (and, earlier, in Milan) this season. Sure, some of looks veer towards the dandy, but is that not more swell than looking like a tramp?

Still, Mr van Noten does not stay too far away from what might be, in the past, considered strictly the domain of women. Or, the increasing universality of womenswear. One piece stood out: The spaghetti-strapped top that seems akin to a camisole. This is worn on its own (a version with thicker straps goes over a shirt), like a singlet at bedtime, a welcome ease that characterises the collection. It is not clear if this slip of a garment will catch on. Skirts have had more time for guys to consider them, but the cami is still novel (until Harry Styles adopts it?). But it’s really hard to say if you consider what buffed guys are wearing on TikTok these days. Mr van Noten describes this piece in the puzzle to the media as “masculine-feminine”. The transitional stage before a full-on womanly?

Screen grab (top): IMAXtree.TV/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com

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