What Do Women Need Now?

PARIS — The fall 2022 ready-to-wear shows came to an end on International Women’s Day; a useful reminder, really, of what this is all ultimately about. Even given everything else that is going on. Maybe especially given everything else that is going on.

Yet it was an oddly noncommittal season. It’s easy to chalk that up to geopolitics, and the crisis and trauma that hit just as mask mandates were being lifted, hammering down any nascent sense of freedom. But aside from a few notable outliers — Bottega Veneta’s reset, Rick Owens’ alien priestesses, Balenciaga’s unflinching storm — the momentum that characterized fashion last fall was missing. So was much of the conversation about inclusivity.

The runways may be meaningfully diverse when it comes to race and gender (indeed, even calling these “women’s shows” is specious, since increasingly gender binaries no longer apply in fashion, and dual-gender shows or gender-fluid clothing is the norm) , but when it comes to size, age and abilities, save for a few token appearances, the bodies on display were uniformly skinny and tall (both men and women); the faces unlined.

What do women need now? Not that.

The biggest trends were opera gloves and very long sleeves (hiding the hands seems like a theme), thigh-high boots, backpacks and big shoulders, plus statements about peace and love. The 1990s and 2000s were still being recycled. There were often Beatles songs on the soundtracks. The most excitement was generated by Rihanna’s stomach.

It’s as if progress of all kinds had been frozen.

Even Miu Miu, where last season Miuccia Prada managed to sum up both the tensions around return to office and late ’90s Britney revisionism with a cropped sweater and low slung mini set that became a viral hit (and ended up on more magazine covers than any other single outfit), this season featured … more of the same.

Albeit with a sporty rather than white collar vibe, so cropped polo shirts in white or navy came over tiny pleated tennis skirts — often worn so low on the hips the pastel silk waist band of some Miu Miu brand underpants peeked out, a lingerie version of the tighty whites often on display. Think “Euphoria” goes to the country club.

It worked so well the first time that you can understand the temptation to continue the story. And Mrs. Prada did include some guys this time, in the same clothes as the girls, not to mention some very short tweed shorts, paired with very big tweed blazers, plus some biker leathers and cropped motorcycle jackets. Also sheer gold lace or crystal woven evening slip dresses, through which, again, the silk underthings were visible. (Could there be a whole new brand extension coming on?)

The point being, she said in an email, that “girlishness” is simply “a state of mind, free from gender binaries and expressed through embracing a spectrum of different identities.”

Anyone can wear a cropped top and bottom! Thought on the runway all those anyones were still pretty young and skinny.

As they were earlier in the day, at Chanel, in Virginie Viard’s tweedapalooza. Held in a vast show space lined from floor to ceiling in tweed, on a runway paved in tweed, Ms. Viard offered up a wardrobe of classic tweed in many colors. Knee-length tweed skirt suits and thigh-high tweed short suits. Hunting tweed, boyfriend tweed (the show notes referenced Gabrielle Chanel’s affair with the Duke of Westminster, and the time she spent in Scotland) and partying tweed. Tweed paired with wellies and tweedy knit over-the-knee socks. Beaded tweed slip dresses.

Tweed that for all its variations and Chanelisms still managed to look mostly matronly; stuck in the mud by the River Tay.

Which was why the video from Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, who showed her collection remotely from Japan because of Covid protocols, was so striking.

Titled “Black Rose,” which Ms. Kawakubo said in a statement represented “courage, resistance and freedom,” it began with a light in the pitch darkness and the strains of the Irish resistance song, “Róisín Dubh.”

A woman emerged in a single-breasted black jacket over a bulbous skirt with the midsection cut out to reveal innards of rough-edged gray-flecked insulation material that swayed as she walked. The same fabric spilled from a long black cutaway, seams visible and splitting; was transformed into an abstract bolero atop cobwebby black lace; and got spliced ​​with zebra stripes, old damask and brocade.

Later a grayish fabric that looked like an abandoned honeycomb was molded into a cropped, roundish jacket and short skirt. There was tulle the color and shape of storm clouds, the suggestions of corsetry and crinolines. Atop their heads the models wore towering patchwork confections, by the set designer and artist Gary Card, like crowns of scraps. They looked like ghosts of beauty past.

It was lovely and haunting: a paean to loss, and proof that grace can be made out of the detritus that remains.

Another useful reminder, going forward.

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