For most designers, perfume and cosmetics are a right of passage; they waste little time getting into the lucrative businesses. But not Van Noten. For over three decades, he has been one of fashion’s rare independent operators who made his name not on licenses, but on clothes. And yet the 63-year-old is probably better suited to these things than many of his peers. “I said I wanted a rose perfume that is kind of a punch—really not a sweet, beautiful, feminine thing. It had to be something that men could easily wear. That was kind of the symbol of how we started to work,” he says of his fragrance lineup, which also includes Neon Garden, one of the scents the designer himself has taken to wearing that pairs the freshness of mint with powdery iris, and Jardin de l’Orangerie, which blends traditional orange blossom with sandalwood for a grounded, earthy effect. What Van Noten didn’t want: “easygoing” perfumes. “I think there’s already so much out there in the market. The idea was that every perfume really tells a story—in my fashion, I’m also a storyteller.”
For someone who has covered Van Noten’s transportive Paris runway shows for a decade and a half, I can say this checks out; unlikely, inspired combinations are very much part of his narrative. One season it could be army fatigues and florals, another he might rework plaid in taffeta, organza, and lamé in a nouveau luxe take on grunge. And there’s no forgetting the kismet of his spring 2020 show, when he collaborated with the esteemed French couturier and costume designer Christian Lacroix, whose exuberant maximalism was a fashionable foil for Van Noten’s own brand of conceptual, yet wearable cool. “Above all, creativity must go further than good taste, classic rules, or concepts,” Lacroix explains of his hookup with Van Noten. “Bringing opposites together is a wonderful, productive practice, each side making its opposite even more valuable, emphasizing it by contrast.”
Another productive practice: refillable bottles that push the boundaries of creativity—and sustainability. Each of the handcrafted flacons in the new collection is itself a study in contrasts, translating the fragrances’ dualities into three-dimensional form. Soie Malaquais, a silk-and-chestnut blend whose name is lifted from the Left Bank address of Van Noten’s Paris boutique, features burgundy glass and porcelain inspired by Delft blue, while the standout Raving Rose marries bubble-gum pink with Jeff Koons’s balloon-dog red.