Back to the office, a protest and a time traveler ball

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PARIS – Around the same time as Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, testified in front of Congress about controversial actions by her former employer, Twitter boss Jack Dorsey was standing in the front row of the Louis Vuitton show, stroking his beard in meditation when he was speaking to the owner of Vuitton, Bernard Arnault, and watching a parade of intricately embroidered, slightly destroyed evening gowns stretched over 19th century hip bags. The panniers, which resembled the trays that cigarette girls carried, bounced as they walked. The lights of what looked like hundreds of antique crystal chandeliers twinkled overhead.

This was just before a climate protester took to the runway with a sign saying “Overconsumption = Extinction” and made it to the photographer’s pen before he was forcibly removed from the area. She was part of a group of environmental activists who had gathered outside, along with the onlookers who had come to take a look at Regina King, Phoebe Dynevor, Venus Williams and Emma Chamberlain, as well as 23 other names in bold.

So the fashion world plunges into the real world. It was a suitably surreal end to a surreal season, one full of hand-rings about the meaning of it all after 18 months of a kind of fast-paced fashion. It was good to see the imagination in motion once more, but also to be careful about getting back into the slipstream and losing the hard-won perspective. From masks and without masks and a lot of nerves.

The best shows made ambitious leaps into new forms, not just on the catwalk but in their conception: Balenciaga’s comment on celebrities, entertainment and modern day experiences across the red carpet and “The Simpsons”; Marni’s Flower Power Event; Rick Owens’ ritual purification through mist; Marine Serres fictional documentary about upcycling and community.

Nice clothes on a catwalk are no longer enough. It’s too easy to look away. Also: who needs it? The environmental activists are right. If the pandemic has done anything, it has raised the bar on the clothes we live in and the level at which they have to connect.

Miuccia Prada achieved this with a Miu Miu collection that brought together the dilemma of the back-to-the-office and… Britney Spears for “Baby One More Time” (that would be 1999).

The incredibly shrinking white-collar uniform was Mrs. Prada’s theme, and her most mundane basics – khaki pants, gray cardigans, white and blue button-downs, navy pleated skirts, trench coats – were her variables, except that they all frayed around the edges and getting smaller. The center didn’t hold up; it was eaten away to expose the entire waist, a great gap opened between the jacket and pants. Skirts came up to the thighs, exposing the dangling bottom of the bag and falling below the hips to reveal a ribbon of what was underneath.

Crop tops and skins were a theme of the season, but never have they been so effectively and cleverly used to deal with the tensions surrounding getting back to work and the desire to recreate what it means and what it looks like to become. (Some satin pencil skirt suits and sheath dresses covered in tulle floral embroidery and pearls and mottled between the office equipment made it look pretty good.)

Nicolas Ghesquière, the artistic director of Vuitton women’s fashion, meanwhile traveled even further through the realms of history, from the 19th time, in a tour de force of what he called “le grand bal of” in a press release. so he made hybrids of shredded chiffon and Art Deco ornaments; mom jeans and cargo shorts; 1980s tailcoats and polka dots; diamond-studded eye masks and huge travel bags.

In the end, Mr. Ghesquière got what is very rare in fashion: standing ovations. Usually the audience filming with their smartphones only offers the sound of a hand clap.

Instead, the music was operatic, with booming chords crackling all over the place, and somehow ominous. In its clinking beauty and in dealing with bygone eras, this was also the show that seemed like a recap of how we have come now; the end of something (it’s the brand founder’s 200th birthday). Maybe it was the season. Maybe it was the last complicated, difficult year.

Maybe it’s the beginning of something new.


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