September 26, 2012 5:58 pm

Paris Fashion Week: day one

Dries Van Noten displays appropriate humility with the lightest of touches
paris fashion week

It is one of the peculiar accidents of fashion timing that day one of the Paris ready-to-wear collections happened to also be Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, which also happened to be the day Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, president of Iran, made a controversial speech about Middle Eastern affairs to the UN General Assembly – which made it an odd, discordant time to be thinking about clothes. The topic felt a little less than . . . urgent.

So it was lucky, really, that the first major show of the week was by Dries Van Noten (though he wouldn’t put it that way), a designer whose work is marked by the grace of a certain humility: his garments never insist on their own primacy. Rather, they tread lightly on the earth, and the body. Literally so, this season.

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“I was thinking about lightness, transparency,” said the designer before the show, as well as “crossing borders: menswear on women, sleepwear and eveningwear for day”, not to mention the history in old couture tropes of the 1950s, and Lucien Freud and Pina Bausch, and all the stuff that goes into a design mind before clothes come out.

In practice this meant layers of contrasting ideas in transparent materials, so menswear tartan shirts in sheer organza came over silk undershirts, and were then paired with below-the-knee skirts bristling in front with hand-embroidered ruffled flowers but plain and simple from behind. Velvet plaid pyjama pants with organza plaid tops appeared under floor-length flounced dresses in see-through floral organzas, and tailored jackets with the sleeves seemingly torn off but with sculpted hips embroidered in silver beads met floral silks met quilted bathrobe coats. If at times it felt too much, deconstructed it was extremely easy.

The delicacy of the layers and the nonchalance of the juxtapositions, which elevated the mundane (plaids, button-down shirts) and deflated the luxe, made for a warning nudge to expectations and leaps to judgment: you could never really be sure exactly what you were seeing.

Van Noten didn’t choose the date of his show – it was handed down by the Chambre Syndicale – and he finished his collection before he knew it, but by using clothes to explore the way one can acknowledge complexity yet eliminate its weight, he gave it, on that day of all days, resonance.

When a gold-embroidered “lampshade” dress over a straight slip appeared, it seemed to float like possibility around the body.

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