What You Really Need Next Season is a Big Black Coat

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PARIS — Paris Fashion Week, and with it the whole monthlong show circus, ended on Tuesday just as one of the largest labor strikes of the year took place in France, halting transport and other services and causing chaos, to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age.

Editors — the ones who hadn’t already changed their departure reservations — scrambled out of the Miu Miu show, panicking about getting their planes home, even as Miuccia Prada’s visions of eccentric policy nerds in gray cardigans, horn-rim glasses and sheer pencil skirts that revealed the waists of pantyhose were dancing in their heads. Sometimes, under the dowdy sweaters, models wore only crystal-spangled briefs. Sometimes it was turtlenecks and hoodies under oversize jackets, sometimes 1950s-era halter-neck sheaths. Always, they tucked their handbags neatly into the crook of their arms, even when their hair looked like it was standing on end.

“I am thinking too much about what’s happening around us and how,” Mrs. Prada said with a sigh, as her guests rushed for the exits. “But I can’t leave fashion like some place of nonsense. Basically, I think we have to dress for thinking, for doing things and so on.”

Or maybe half-dress, as if someone woke up with a brilliant idea, pulled on the clothes nearest at hand, was so excited she forgot the bottoms and then rushed out the door with serious bed-head to make it happen. Either way, she wasn’t just “dreaming about strange party fashions,” as Mrs. Prada said.

It was a fitting end to the French collections, which had begun with Dior’s toned-down paean to the 1950s and Europe in the wake of World War II, a show that proved more prescient than anyone knew when they took their seats in the Tuileries on Day 1. There’s a rigor in the air, and in the clothes; a quiet fierceness that is both protective and practical. Time to get on with things.

Remember that predicted explosion of excitement everyone thought was going to happen after the first period of pandemic social isolation? That burst of vitality and freedom that would involve color! And sequins! And ruffles!? That period of the 2020s that was supposed to mirror the 1920s, full of Champagne and dancing on tables; that period that was just starting? Well, it got cut short by the war in Ukraine.

We’ve fast-forwarded, reference-wise, to the post-WWII era now, at least in fashion (not, obviously, in reality, though perhaps the clothes are actually a gesture of belief that we’ll get there soon, maybe by the time they end up in stores): buck up and buckle down. History compressed by current events into a few style cycles.

Frivolity is out; austerity and formality is in. (This is part of the ubiquitous new emphasis on wearability, intimacy.) Arms clutched around the torso is the defining gesture. The black overcoat — broad shoulders, hems brushing the ankles or even the floor, expansive enough to double as a place of refuge, but also tough — is the defining garment. Most often worn with a cavernous handbag and an interesting shoe. See the Row, where Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered enveloping double-breasted styles with a scarflike panel emerging from the side, like an extra fillip of care, as “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the goth-rock song by The Bauhaus, played in the background.

That’s why the Chanel show, an ode to the camellia, struck such an off note. Two giant camellias — a key part of the brand semiology and the base note of its fragrance Chanel No. 1 — had been built in the show space, and around them swirled the models in camellia-speckled everything.

There were camellias woven into the tweed of a soft-shoulder day coat; camellias clustered around the neckline of a leather jacket; camellias as a corsage on a white T-shirt over a striped undershirt and sequin jeans; camellias polka-dotted over knitwear; camellias embossed on ’70s-style boots. The colors caught the general mood, and there were some lovely airy pieces (the designer Virginie Viard is best when she isn’t trying for cool), but then the collection overdosed on camellias.

The only other item as present (besides the brand’s signature tweed bouclé) was shorts. Bermuda shorts, biker shorts and long bloomer shorts; shorts worn as part of a suit, often over white lace tights with those boots. Combined with the camellias, they looked sort of like a perfume ad for the out-of-touch.

On the other hand, when Junya Watanabe’s road warriors arrived wearing gas masks dripping in delicate gold chains and glorious pastiches of motorcycle and trench coats, garments that had been boiled down to their constituent parts and re-amalgamated, with Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” blaring out and D-rings hanging off waists, they looked exactly right.

“I feel like it’s important to be grounded now, because the world is in such chaos and upside down,” said Sarah Burton after a fantastic Alexander McQueen show. She was back in Paris after three years of London shows, but she wasn’t celebrating. She was tailoring. She was, as she said, “stripping away” down to the anatomy of a suit or a jumpsuit — strong-shoulder, no-nonsense, in black and gray. One constructed to make you “feel quite held, in a way that is still incredibly relevant and beautiful.”

The only adornment came in the form of orchids (painted onto, yes, black coats, and jackets; built out of armorial silver on a dress) and neckties. Ties! Which were also on view at Valentino in almost every outfit, since the designer Pierpaolo Piccioli based his entire collection on the idea of black tie and the way social constructs can be rewritten by context. After all, now that ties have been abandoned by the professional classes, they can get repurposed by fashion world: into abstracted symbols of uniform; into totems of power.

“I wanted something more strict,” Mr. Piccioli said before the show about his repurposing of an old-fashion dress code. “There’s been too much eclecticism. Too much buzz.” Sometimes limitations can actually be liberating

To wit: 73 iterations of an alternative in black, white, pink and red as well as striped, checkerboarded, short, long, collared, crystal-bedecked, ruffled and feathered. The best option was the simplest: a floor-length white shirtdress cut generously loose and sliced to the thigh on one side. The sort of dress that would make you feel like the most sophisticated hostess of your own life, without getting in its way.

If that’s one solution to the dilemma of navigating the current environment, Rei Kawakubo offered another, describing the impetus for her Comme des Garçons collection as “wanting to go back to the starting point,” to “return to the source.”

Not the source of inspiration or the life source: the actual birth of the universe (she’s not the only one; escaping earth has been something of a subtrend this season). How else to reboot this whole thing? We may have reached that breaking point.

Then she offered up 11 passages, in pairs, each set to their own slice of music, each like a mishmash of molecules colliding: black and white and red and blue; fake fur and wool and tulle; layers and lumps and roses and protrusions. By the end, a few appeared to have coalesced into actual dress form.

It was a potent reminder that from the beginning, no matter what else is going on, we’ve always needed something to wear.



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