PARIS — The Paris shows — and the whole ready-to-wear season — came to a close on Tuesday in the Cour Marly of the Louvre, under an I.M. Pei glass pyramid and a darkening sky, amid heroic 17th- and 18th-century marble nudes and plunging horses.
Through them ranged the road warriors of Louis Vuitton: women not bound by reference or decade; women rooted to the ground in thick-soled knee-high boots, mixing the pastoral and the urban, the folk and the futuristic. Even though some of them wore lace, they were absent fragility.
The next day was International Women’s Day, but as far as fashion was concerned, it had already arrived.
There may have been less overt politics on the runways in Europe than there had been in New York (the slogan tee didn’t make it across the water, though the pussy hat and the “tied together” bandanna did), but that doesn’t mean that the current social climate wasn’t a subtext in almost every collection. Designers were either trying to armor women for battle, or decorate them for battle, or take care of them so they could go into battle, or simply make the question of dress (literally) more streamlined so they could … well, do battle.
As the fashion crowd flew out of France, Saint Laurent was in the cross hairs because of a new campaign that depicted skinny girls in fishnets and stiletto roller skates, legs spread wide. It was widely protested as “degrading” to women. The French advertising authority is investigating, and it expects to have a detailed ruling on Friday. But here’s the thing: Woman-as-sex-toy is so last season. Power dressing has a new look — one that doesn’t have to do with imitating the job you want, but rather having the confidence to do what you have to do.
Like remaking men’s wear as desired, along with strong shoulders, trench coats and belted waists. There were trouser suits, sure, but just as one option among many. We’re out of that pigeonhole. Bodies were more covered up than they have been in a long time. There was little gratuitous breast-baring. Hemlines swirled most often below the knee.
After Vuitton, after posing with Michelle Williams and Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith in the glare of a hundred flashbulbs, the designer Nicolas Ghesquière said that, as far as he was concerned, in a world where walls are going up, the whole point of fashion was to show you could “break every boundary possible” and merge every category and every culture; that fashion itself was not the messenger but the message.
So his slip dresses were complete with capes of rough fabric, and cropped flared jeans were paired with jackets collaged together from different furs, the sleeves shortened to create an epaulet-like effect; sleeveless rough tartan dresses were bathed in sequins for shine. At Moncler Gamme Rouge, Giambattista Valli layered up tweeds on techno chintz on lace on ribbed tights on Alpine knits, and added matching bedrolls and backpacks for more glamorous self-sufficiency. Then he undermined his point by sending out a company of Canadian Mounties to guard the final parade. They were just another accessory.
Earlier, standing in an enormous room she had padded almost entirely in plush purple fake fur (because, you know, sometimes you just want to bang your head against a wall), Miuccia Prada said she had been preoccupied in her Miu Miu show with the problem of what glamour means in an uncertain world. Her answer: fuzzy fabrics in sorbet shades; coats with big shawl collars and bigger buttons; hats and mittens and boots. Plus 1940s sipping-at-the-soda-shop starlet crepes in retro prints like rotary dial phones and slinky pussycats, or with judiciously placed rhinestones. Which is to say: comfort clothing for the rapier wit.
As it happened, that group came in notably varied colors and heights. Because if you’re going to recommend inclusivity as an answer to isolationism, finish the thought: It doesn’t just apply to different cultural groups. Saint Laurent wasn’t the only brand being named and shamed; others (Lanvin, Margiela) also got called out for having too homogeneous a runway.
Fashion has a long way to go. This everyone knows. But as the lights went out in the Louvre, reality had been — for the most part — intellectually and aesthetically engaged.