Beyond the Pantsuit – The New York Times

Beyond the Pantsuit – The New York Times


PARIS — It was raining on the final morning of the Paris shows, gray and overcast, but under the glass ceiling of the Grand Palais all was sunny and warm. The designer Karl Lagerfeld had built a beach, complete with dunes, sea grasses and surf lapping at the shore, through which the models splashed barefoot. The sand had come from a quarry outside the city and was due to be returned; the water’s ebb and flow was controlled by hidden pistons, but the carefree mood was real.

And not just because the audience, which had slogged through four fashion weeks, was thinking, “Yay! It’s almost over.”

There has been a lot of talk about women warriors during this season: Women taking it to the front lines; women gearing up for battles, supreme or otherwise; women readying themselves to fight for their cause. Mr. Lagerfeld was having none of it.

Instead he was having fun with leggings, with the house’s classic bouclé (boxy, oversized, slashed at the side like couture to show miniskirts beneath), with straw hats and Chanel logos and swirling parasol prints. Also little black dresses (tiered, flapper style, in silk chiffon). Also denim (palazzo-sized, with a monochromatic maillot). Bike shorts. Patent macs. You name it, he probably did it. Some more attractively than others.

Chanel is a formula by now: Take some tweed, some quilting, add a dash of contemporary trend, a pinch of pearls and a sprinkling of double Cs, throw it all in a pot and stir. If a few of the ingredients make your nose wrinkle, like those lumpy oversized jackets, it’s O.K. — there are some sorbet-refreshing silk slips and shirt coverups about to go in, too.

What there isn’t, even among all the choice, is what we have historically considered women’s armor: the pantsuit. Granted, it’s not traditionally a Chanel thing; the house tends more to the lunchable skirt suit, though even that was only nominally present. But Mr. Lagerfeld wasn’t alone in eschewing either uniform. It hasn’t been much of a focus overall.

Have we moved beyond it?

If so, it’s a big deal, in part because it reflects the idea that women no longer believe they have to dress like men to be taken seriously. At this stage, after all, anyone who doesn’t take them seriously even in old laundry bags is an idiot. Besides, as at Chanel, designers are providing so many options. Choose what you like.

At Alexander McQueen, for example, where Sarah Burton has long been fascinated by pagan history, folklore and the blood of the tribes on which Britain was built, the designer combined the tough shields of leather blacksmith’s aprons — bolted onto one side, belted like corsetry around the waist, in butter-yellow molded bustiers and sweeping skirts — with the lightest, cobwebby lace dresses, and showed it all loaded up with talismans (on necks, arms, ears) amid the giant boulders of a pre-Stonehenge world.

Around those obstacles streamed leather painted with poppies and other blooms; Prince of Wales jackets with backs that had been cut open to expose the spine and trimmed in chains; and a slick black pair of trousers topped with the silver cobweb slip of a summer solstice priestess. The shoulders of a Maid Marian dress were power-puffed.

There’s a sense of wildness and danger barely contained in Ms. Burton’s clothes, even at their most filigree and flowery, which is what makes them interesting. Not the aggression that was once a part of the brand under its founder, but a willingness to go to extremes, even in something as simple as a crisp white shirt finished with cotton lace and fishtailing to the knee on one side.

That it was worn with a white trouser suit was almost beside the point, just as the parchment pantsuit that unexpectedly opened Giambattista Valli’s show proved to be simply a throat-clearer for a maharajah moment in signature high/low dresses redrawn in henna patterns, a series of LWDs (little white dresses) in lace and lip prints, and ornate velvet pants with matching ornate tops. And some leopard.

Roar.



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