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Style / To be dressed by Dior

Observations on the mad, mad, mad world of fashion



Dress by Zara

Photos by Vogue

 

It’s always nice to fall in love again, and, this season, Maria Grazia Chiuri brought me back to Dior. Her rich neutrals and statement pieces look soft but secure. They display the body’s shape but offer coverage. They show new ways to support the body regardless of dress length or neckline. I can almost not breathe when I revisit the collection. Weaves and florals and tie dyes and silhouettes—there is something that anyone at any age could wear, and wear to any event or at home. Most important, every dress gently guides a viewer up to the wearer’s face, which is the point of a perfect dress. It is a frame, not the centerpiece. The woman is the centerpiece.

 

Dress by Audra

 

Yes, and this first woman to head the House of Dior has brought me back there. It has been awhile. But it almost did not happen. I got waylaid by Celine, or, more specifically, I was taken out of my Dior moment when I discovered that Phoebe Philo was no longer the creative director at Celine. I was surprised. Philo had fans, including Stella McCartney, who said of her,  “One of the few female designers, she celebrates the simple and champions the quality and reality of the woman’s wardrobe. When people invest in her work, they have it for life. One of the things we share is the reality that the clothes we design are actually worn.”

 

But fashion is an industry, and whoever ran Celine must have decided that a change would boost sales. Philo was replaced by Hedi Slimane who, as the creative director for Saint Laurent, had developed an almost cult-like following with his menswear. One can understand why. His designs are slick and confident, and so is he. This is the same guy who insisted that the “skinny suit” was perfect for husbands, and convinced his former bosses to take the Yves out of YSL. The man gets his way.

 

He got to Celine in time to introduce the 2019 spring/summer women’s collection. And it was a dramatic change. Up and down the runway ran super-short little black dresses—very micro LBDs—not at all a Phoebe Philo look. And these precious little black dresses shared the runway with a collection of his menswear suits. This was different, too, and is where I came in. Not literally. I was not at all involved, but I liked the dresses. It felt like a Twiggy redo. They were as short as a shirt, most of them, and I am hardly a customer within Slimane’s demographic, but they were French and after-party inspired and beautiful. They were worth a share. But then I stopped. Every time I thought of the dresses as presented within the whole show, something seemed out of balance. The dresses said, “Party all night,” but the men’s attire said, “We boys are taking a meeting.” The show reminded me of the Manet painting of the naked lady sitting on a picnic blanket next to two fully clothed men. That painting disturbs me. And maybe somebody else in charge reacted this way, too, because after the show, Celine delivered a message: Oh, by the way, the wardrobe worn by the male models is unisex.

 

Looks by Dolce and Gabbana

 

The explanation only made matters worse. The company said “unisex,” but they must have been confused, because unisex does not mean male. It means a collaboration, for starters, and there was no sign of compromise on that runway, no creative blend of gender-fluidity or sensibilities. Slimane had drawn a line in permanent marker, the same old line there has always been. There was business attire for men and after-party dresses for women. Out of ninety-six outfits, thirty-nine were bedazzled minis. Two had see-through blouses. Forty-nine, on the other hand, were absolutely male: variations on long pants, suit coats, mock turtles, jackets, ties, big boy shoes, and no visible skin below the Adam’s apple. Women could wear this, sure, but there was no escaping the fact that this was prototypical male attire, and suitable for meetings during daylight hours. Not the dresses, though, no. When it came to real choices, women had only two: businessman or party girl.

 

I had to look. I had to see what has been happening over at Saint Laurent since Slimane’s replacement took over. I was hoping that under new creative director Anthony Vaccarello, the company was doing better than ever. I can be bad that way, a Little Miss Schadenfreude. But I am afraid I am not able to report. I do not have an answer on the company’s bottom line because I never got past the looking at the collection. It was a runway display so after-after-party that it prompted Vogue to note: “Embrace the Nipple as the Next Big Statement Accessory.”

 

“It’s a strange industry,” Dior’s Chiuri told Lauren Collins at Vogue when talking about her experiences in fashion. “The clients are women, a lot of workers are women, but everybody was surprised when I became the creative director of Dior. It’s just a little bit strange.”

 

Looks by Versace

 

Fashion can feel so cliche at times, so vapid, so counterproductive. Cruel. There is a power in artistic expression. It can imprint. It can change points of view. It can also, unfortunately, sustain antiquated ones. Take public art, for example. There is a lot of public art in my city, and a lot of it is old, and a lot of that old art features naked bodies. If they are male and naked, then there is usually a good reason—they are either gods or canoeists. Kings, on the other hand, are always fully clothed. So, too, are the jesters, the coal shovelers, and the former civic leaders carved for forever into their old-man heavy overcoats and Van Dyke beards. But the women who are honored in marble and bronze are almost always nude. They will never be able to pull up the towel left dangling by a fingertip, or find a couch blanket handy as they lie for eternity in a “state of repose.” I always itch when I see the massive statue of a peasant lifting up that armload of her freshly hewn wheat. She doesn’t even have a bra on, or shoes. Who in their right mind thinks anyone works a field that way? I am not a prude, I swear. But how about a little balance? The coal shovelers have shirts, even hats, and someone took the time to accurately mottle the jester’s unitard. Meanwhile, there is a bare female torso gracing the front yard of the nearby highrise apartment. Decades ago, a group must have decided that the imitation Grecian ruin added a touch of class. But today, art like that is more apt to prompt the question, “Mommy, why doesn’t that lady have a head?” Or arms. Or legs.

 

“I think that the patriarchy is something that is very close to me,” Chiuri continued. “We try not to feel this reference, but we were born with this reference.”

 

Movie critics complain about being taken out of the moment while watching a scene. Some visual or dialogue or plot point distracts them so much that it interrupts the natural flow of the story. This does not just happen in movies. All art is a form of narrative, including fashion design. There are missteps. Fashion is big business, and a male dominated business. The Celine show took me out of the moment I should have been enjoying with the Dior collection and others. But at least I managed to get back to a better storyline. It is not so hard anymore to get back to what matters. Because for every designer who brags that he is set in his ways and never wrong, for every fashion house that promotes clothes that bind our arms (I’m talking to you, Balenciaga), there is a Rick Owens who makes an effort toward balance. He designs women’s wear with power and fortitude. There is a Maria Grazia Chiuri who keeps artisans employed so we do not lose their skills, and turns flower petals into chainmail as light as air. There is a Donatella Versace who designs dresses for the brave Amazon in each heart. There is a team at Dolce & Gabbana with the clout to buck the system and create a runway full of models who look like you and me—or at least how we might look if we had a team of professional make-up and hair stylists.

 

That would be sweet, wouldn’t it? To have that and just one dress from Dior.

 

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