Van Noten says the hard turn to the right the world has taken, along with the oppressive political and social systems that accompany such turns inspired him to look at two subcultures that flourished in previous bleak periods. "The Zazous in Paris in the 1940s, and Buffalo in London in the 1980s. Both were in periods which were a bit similar. Hard times. So we wanted to make our own version of that." While I do recall the Buffalo look started by stylist Ray Petri in Thatcher's England of the 1980s (Buffalo was a totally cool pastiche of multiple ethnicities, classic English tailoring, and sportswear), I was not familiar with Les Zazous. They were a group of young people in Nazi-occupied France who loved dressing to the max, jazz, and all things British and American (especially literature and music). According to Simone de Beauvoir writing at the Café de Flore in 1942, "The young men wore dirty drape suits with ‘drainpipe’ trousers under their sheep-skinned lined jackets and brilliantined liberally their long hair, the girls favored tight roll-collar sweaters with short flared skirts and wooden platform shoes, sported dark glasses with big lenses, put on heavy make-up and went bare-headed to show their dyed hair, set off by a lock of different hue." They were contemporaries to the Zoot Suit and precursors to the Teddy Boys. Without their rebellious spirit and middle-finger-to-the-Nazis, we would not have had Mods, Teddy Boys, Glam Rockers, or Punks.
The fate of the Zazous was not good: supporters of the Vichy government hunted them down at their regular cafés and jazz clubs to beat them senseless, shave their heads, and send them to work camps in the French countryside. And we know the outcome of the Buffalo fashionable club world was not great either: the community was ravaged by AIDS as thousands of talented, intelligent, wonderful men were destroyed in their prime. So this inspiration for Van Noten was not taken lightly.
Here he shows us new rebels, shown on a classic Parisian rooftop surrounded by Mansard roofs. A nod to the suits of the Zazous lie under feminine lingerie-pink corsets and camisoles, making a statement about gender. And a nod to the Buffalo look manifests in large text-based graphics and colorful, sporty pieces that look like they come from the world of Motocross. When I first saw this collection, it seemed a bit muddied and random but like so many things in this world, the more you understand something and discover it in a deeper way, the more things make sense. Van Noten has created a satisfyingly cerebral collection that is also wonderfully pleasing to the eye and ultimately very wearable.