Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gender Fusing: Van Noten's Triumph

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gender Fusing: Van Noten's Triumph

Article excerpt

The designer sent out a collection that was delicate, a touch frivolous -- yet profound.

Dries Van Notenelectrified the first full day of the Paris fashion season with a show that was delicate, a touch frivolous -- yet profound.

Crystals exploding over the surface of a camel hair coat, feathers sprouting from a sober skirt, the light-handed frivolity of a silk fringe, all counterbalanced by sober, mannish brogues -- the Belgian designer had a familiar story in that tired man/woman subject at his show on Wednesday. But the result was so inventive and refreshing that he received roars of applause.

"It's an evolution -- a lot of men's wear touched by female embellishment, mohair English wool with diamonds -- and Fred and Ginger, that kind of lightness," the designer said backstage at his autumn 2013 collection.

The soundtrack dutifully played "Cheek to Cheek" sung by Fred Astaire as he danced with Ginger Rogers in "Top Hat." And that sweet calm of the 1930s couple extended to the clothes. There were no battles of the sexes in the mix of dry, masculine cloth and sweet female flower embroideries.

Yet this powerful collection was revolutionary in its way, for after all the battling years -- from the androgynous 1980s through the girly 2000s -- Mr. Van Noten took fashion to a crucial point beyond the angry feminist gender bending to what he called "fused genders."

So instead of a sense of a cocky rebellion of women wearing the pants or a rage to stand shoulder to padded shoulder with the male wardrobe, here were elegant clothes that brought together the genders. The most unlikely were the feathers pushing up like early shoots through sober gray suiting; or a similar idea in which golden flowers were embroidered on camel hair or alpaca tailoring.

Held in the gilded grandeur of City Hall, what the designer called "a lot of bling" seemed to melt into the clothes, even if just a small golden bow embroidered on a fluffy sweater. But to get the balance right, there were also anti-bling pieces: a man's striped scarf worn casually at the neck or a hospital-white cotton shirt with just a small dose of embroidery. …

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