#SuzyPFW: Melancholic Beauty From Dries Van Noten

A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” said Dries Van Noten backstage, rolling his ‘R’s to give a hard edge to the soft flowers rambling over his Autumn/Winter 2019 collection.

“I didn’t want sweet, sweet flowers,” he continued, “It really had to be the flower in our garden in October – roses with an edge, when you see a disease on the roses, the black spots.”

Women in black – seven of them with padded puffer cover-ups – started the Dries show. But even before that, there was a sense of melancholy in the low-ceiling, underground bunker with its heavy atonal music.

Nature won out in the end, as autumnal roses made a shadowy appearance on a lilac top; or pink blooms shone through a shimmering transparent coat, as if caught in a rain shower.

“The roses were literally from the garden. We made a small video to look at, but it was really the idea of having the right feeling of strangeness,” the designer explained. “Flowers can be sweet and romantic, but it had to be a vision of roses from now, not from the past.”

That gentle sense of sadness explained why the designer opened the show with grey pinstripe suits and had a single tailored outfit at the end.

“For me, you have the masculine side and the extremely feminine side with the roses. The grey outfits were the balance between men and women,” he said.

As Gertrude Stein’s reference to a rose in a 1913 poem suggests absolute beauty, I was interested by the ‘imperfect’ Dries angle. He seemed to have a consciously Belgian, almost Calvinistic, approach to flowers, compared to luxurious blooms from Europe’s sunny south.

Poetry and passion are familiar to the Van Noten ethic, but this show was played out in a deliberately minor key. Dries described the greys of the tailoring as ‘graphite, slate, charcoal’ and the pastels as ‘powdery mauve, duck-egg blue, eau-de-nil’, although those gentle shades were illuminated by ‘imperial yellow’.

The result was beauty in a low key, the colours mixed as they might be in a fading autumnal flower bed, with mauve and turquoise, often as base colours, but with flourishes of vivid rose pink on a shirt top or golden leaves cascading over a muted-mauve dress. Sometimes a rose would protrude from a shoulder as a purple coat slipped off.

Every single garment – from a plain sweater touched with colour to wild patterning in different shades – had a melancholy beauty that reflected so perfectly the angst and foreboding of current times. It made for a fine and thought-provoking collection from the sensitive Dries Van Noten.