23-Nov, 06:57

10:17, September 27 159 0

2017-09-27 10:17:04
Fashion Review: What Does a ‘Woke Woman’ Wear?

The final round of the ready-to-wear collections began here with a quote, and a call to arms.

Etched into the faux adobe over the entrance to the temporary structure erected in the Musée Rodin gardens for the Dior show was a line from the artist Niki de Saint Phalle that began: “If life is a game of cards, we are born without knowing the rules.” Inside, on every seat in the mirror-mosaicked space was a small pamphlet titled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” written in 1971 by the art historian Linda Nochlin.

You’ve got to hand it to the designer Maria Grazia Chiuri — she stands her ground. There’s no waffling here. Whatever the voices whispering in her ear are saying, she does not let them sway her from what she believes. When she joined Dior as its first female artistic director just over a year ago, she picked up the banner of feminism and has been waving it enthusiastically ever since: delving into its literature, discovering its heroines and using them as muses in her shows, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Georgia O’Keeffe and Amelia Earhart.

It should have made her the perfect designer for these “woke women” times. The problem is the disconnect between the inspiration and its expression.

As consistently as she has stuck to her agenda, she has stuck to her separates: couture denim — this season in patchworks of different faded washes and weaves — and Dior-branded underthings: big pants and little bras, reimagined in wide marinière stripes (or jailhouse ones, depending on your reference point), most often worn under sheer tulle ballet skirts. Also the corset top and the character cashmere knit, this time with the dragons, spiders and snakes that marked the work of Ms. Saint Phalle.

But what feminist, even a millennial one, wants to wear a mirrored mosaic onesie in bright pink or blue under a transparent tulle skirt open to the waist that looks like nothing so much as Madonna in her “Desperately Seeking Susan” years? Or a white cotton version over a polka dot shirt with a swiss dot skirt below and a white jacket over it all, as if to give new meaning to the term play suit? These are not the clothes of revolution, even New Look revolution.

In her essay Ms. Nochlin posited that part of the problem were rules made by the patriarchy, but Ms. Chiuri is not rejecting clothes dictated by the patriarchy.

Her research into Ms. Saint Phalle led her to discover that the artist was close to the former Dior designer Marc Bohan, and many of the pieces of ’60s and ’70s-inspired day wear — little black bib frocks paired with over-the-knee socks; Grand Prix-checked pea coats; a cherry red leather trench, soft as butter, over matching pleated culottes; some simple pantsuits in shrunken proportions — were variations on looks he had created for the artist during his tenure. And a lot of them, in Ms. Chiuri’s hands, looked good, or at least better than those playsuits, which sort of undermined the whole exercise.

Single-minded dedication to a cause can be admirable, but it can also be blinding and lack subtlety — in fashion, as in life. (Ms. Chiuri, for example, seems to have entirely missed the irony of putting the female artist/director Sam Taylor-Johnson in her front row.) The challenge is in understanding the difference.

At Jacquemus, Simon Porte Jacquemus once again found his muse in his mother and the town in the South of France outside of Marseille where he grew up, dedicating his collection to “la bombé” (the bomb). By knotting, draping, ruching and otherwise swathing bodies in dresses based on the concept of the beach-ready maillot and pareo (even if they came in pinstriped linen and jersey), adding mismatched geometric earrings and gigantic straw hats, he generally upped the sophistication factor.

At Maison Margiela, John Galliano, who has in the past occasionally suffered from a surfeit of ideas, continued to explore the limits of the décortiqué approach he introduced a few seasons ago, which effectively means reducing garments to their bones and then layering and otherwise recombining them to challenge received convention.

He was interested, he said before the show, “in proposing a new kind of glamour — not actually doing it, because there is no end point to fashion, but trying to do it.”

So he pulled apart the symbols of glamour — the classic trench, the hunting jacket, the spa robe, the Marilyn dress — and reverse-engineered them. Nylon trapped a lamé dress, and a T-shirt had been abstracted into an exoskeleton of seams traced by feathers that could be tossed on like a cardigan over everything from a basic bodysuit to a Balmoral houndstooth skirt suit, “because we wear day wear at night and evening wear in the day,” Mr. Galliano chortled.

Maybe — though it’s a distinction that was entirely erased at Saint Laurent, where, in the glittering shadow of the nighttime Eiffel Tower, Anthony Vaccarello offered up: shorts. Or, to be fair, sex and shorts. In a multitude of increasingly provocative ways. The steam rising off the fountains of the Trocadéro in the background simply added to the effect.

The shorts came in olive green, in leather, in suede, in lace, in metallic brocade. Sometimes they were actually very mini miniskirts that just looked like shorts with the seams sliced open. Often they were paired with knee-high ostrich feather rock star boots that canted the models forward like show ponies.

Also poet laureate shirts in gauzy, billowy fabrics, once in a while replaced by a sharp jacket, later in vintage lace and flou. In the middle, some men appeared, although for them the big idea seemed to be skinny jeans and sparkly warm-up jackets. Then it was back to the women, in enormous pouf dresses so abbreviated they were mostly just pouf.

Attenuated limbs emerged from explosions of ostrich feathers or perhaps a single steroid-fueled red leather or fuchsia satin ruffle. They were more like the suggestion of a dress than an actual garment (how to sit in them, for example, was unclear, though perhaps it didn’t really matter); a siren call to dance in the darkness. These women weren’t asking “why” — they were asking “why not?”

And they sure as sparkle weren’t going back to sleep any time soon.