Marchesa Casati was the flamboyantly garbed hostess of the Ballet Russe, and her dramatic style has informed the fashion world for decades. Yet, none have re-imagined her eccentricities for the modern day as Dries Van Noten did for Fall/Winter 2016, where a boarding-school-after-dark motif sent a frisson of thrill through the audience. The trappings of the wealthy and elite and their status signifiers were cobbled into a collection that haunted the runway like the spectre of an aristocrat calling from the grave, with her leopard pets and live reptilian accessories reified as lavish coats and sinuous embroidery.
By intersecting the indulgent lifestyle of one of Europe’s most imaginatively stylish doyennes and the stuffy, repressive atmosphere of a boarding school, Van Noten landed on an inspired theme.
Casati lived by the dandy code set forth by Oscar Wilde, to either “be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” She worshipped at the altar of this idea in the most fanciful creations: costumes made of diamond netting, glittering fringed gowns, lavish tiaras, all accompanied by her menagerie of exotic pets. Van Noten translated these elements onto leopard trousers and jumpsuits, viscose sequinned netting, tabards dotted with stamps resembling pearl strands, and gorgeous forest-green fur coats and mantles. It was a heady affair, but so elegantly executed that one could never accuse his work of being over the top.
Most women, the haughtiest of socialites included, simply don’t have the time for the Marchesa’s level of theatrics, so to discipline his aesthetic Van Noten included boarding-school clothes as a smart counterpoint. They came emblazoned with family crests appliquéd to the chest of piqué shirts and on the breast of varsity jackets and contrast-trimmed blazers, which were in turn paired with generously cut trousers featuring stripes or plaid. Just in case you wanted something more extravagant in that same vein, Van Noten included a gleaming gold lamé embossed pant suit. Elsewhere in the collection were printed smoking jackets, polka-dot cigarette pants, wide-leg track bottoms, crimson velvet trousers, and other elements borrowed from the boys.
By intersecting the indulgent lifestyle of one of Europe’s most imaginatively stylish doyennes and the stuffy, repressive atmosphere of a boarding school – where rules were strict, but breaking them was all that mattered – Van Noten landed on an inspired theme for Fall/Winter 2016. Some critics may argue that you don’t need a story to sell clothes, but in this case it certainly helped.