How to Make Political Fashion


Maria Grazia Chiuri finally found a natural hook for the feminism she’s been pushing at Dior since she took over 18 months ago: the 50th anniversary of the student revolts in Paris. But Chiuri didn’t invoke barricades so much as the “youthquake” that Diana Vreeland offered, heavily wallpapering her show with enlarged tear sheets from 1968 Vogue, as well protest posters. Still, May 1968 is a political touchstone here in France, and it provided Chiuri with a link, however thin, to newer youth movements like #MeToo.

It’s hard not to suspect big brands like Dior of gross opportunism. True, Gucci pledged $500,000 last week to the upcoming student-led March for Our Lives in protest of gun violence, and that seems like the most sincere form of action for an elite industry: Put your money where your mouth is. And to Chiuri’s credit, she didn’t load up her show with 1968 references. How many of her young customers even know what the stakes were? Or how couturiers like Marc Bohan, then at Dior, or Yves Saint Laurent had to challenge rigid conventions of dress?

So Chiuri was wise to plant her fall collection — her best to date — in the fertile fashion ground of the late ’60s, and allow observers to make their own contemporary connections. (Or not.) Given how social media works, Chiuri had already succeeded before the first model came out in a balaclava (cagoule, as the hoods are known here), dark plaid pants, and a chunky sweater that said “C’est non, non, non et non!” That’s because the wallpapered set was incredibly graphic — ideal for a phone screen. Anyone could understand it, add a few hashtagged words, and post. The clothes were just gravy.

As it happens, they were pretty good too. Chiuri has had an annoying habit for the past couple of seasons of presenting three or four unusual styles, almost one-offs, and then returning to a familiar storm of tomboy sportswear and princess lines. This time, though, she showed more variety as well as depth. She beefed up her school-uniform fascination with kilts, in two lengths and in a sheer version, and a terrific boyish pantsuit in gray plaid. She added biker boots and clogs. She presented a bunch of styles in a crazy-quilt pattern, following Raf Simons’s use of quilts at Calvin Klein, but also making a link both to handcrafts in contemporary art and to the kind of DIY patchwork that was popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s (and the subject of numerous books and exhibits on counterculture fashion). She also had fresh-looking, clingy knit dresses in dip-dyed wool and a standout poncho-style raincoat in deep blue.

A few hours after the show, I ran into Dominique Deroche, who for many years was the head of PR at Yves Saint Laurent. It has been Arctic cold in Paris, and Dominique had on a cagoule. “It’s 25 years old,” she said, reminding me that Saint Laurent had first done the cap-and-hood combo in 1962 for haute couture and then repeated it occasionally afterward.

Marine Serre, in her runway debut, also had cagoules, but the effect was quite different. Her first collection, done in 2016 while she was still a fashion student in Belgium, was a response to the terrorist bombings in Paris and Brussels that occurred around that time. The collection included a crescent-moon print, a symbol widely identified with Islam. To Serre, the print was a way to suggest inclusion, a merging of ideas — with urban athletic styles, say. It also demonstrated that the designer, who won the LVMH Prize last year, is an ace at branding. The crescent detail is part of her logo.

Serre, unlike Chiuri, is good at implying things. That’s what gave her first professional show an unusual maturity. Her headpieces could have religious connotations, but you’re not sure they could be standard-issue ski hoods. Similarly, some of her ruffled skirts and shapely denim could be a nod to the 19th century, yet she nicely brooms away the literal reference. Her clothes reveal a solid sense of pragmatism — who’s going to wear these things? are they based on reality? — and at the same time a very strong urge to look ahead and question how fashion should look in the 21st century.

“They all answer to daily life,” she said afterward of slim trousers and jackets with special pockets for phones and ID. “The idea was to rethink how you do outerwear today, and also keeping the shape of the woman.”

Serre is too smart, I think, to let politics or labels or backstories take precedence over the demanding business of making interesting clothes and establishing a clear point of view. That she has done. Not only did she add fresh styles to her sportswear, like the shapely denim, but she also expanded the scarf dresses she showed last season. They’re more fluid and original in both cut and pattern. In fact, the dresses are all made from recycled garments or fabrics found in Marseilles. She plans to produce orders in the same vein.

If you were doing a collection based on the colors and sensuality of Morocco — favorite destination of designers — would you present them in the sugary vastness of the Petit Palais? Simon Porte Jacquemus’s clothes were drowned by the venue and the hokey souk music, and though he had some lovely, long fluid looks, he seemed mostly unable to avoid the Marrakech clichés.

How to Make Political Fashion