What does it mean to be clothed as a woman? According to the Old Testament, our first coverings were figleaves, foraged to conceal our shameful sex after we ate what tasted good and we learned everything. And now? Contemporary fashion is testament to contemporary ideals. Here are some ideas gathered from yesterday’s PFW prosthelytizing:
Do women design for women differently than men do? Gender generalizations are generally iffy but there’s something to the oft-made assertion that Phoebe Philo is a woman who knows what women want. Maybe it’s safer to say that Philo designs clothes that speak to a certain set of women who think about what it means to want as a woman. That means clothes that appear effortless yet elegant, comfortable yet composed, with confident boasts of sexuality and shameless eccentricities. Case in point: knotted sculptural tops and low slung trousers that, hemmed long, pooled at the ankles above fur-lined Birkenstock lookalikes. The footwear got more eccentric still: bejeweled shower sandals, Big Bird pumps, nude high heels with surreal red toenail polish. Hems were frayed. Skirts baggy. Mesh cut out and revealing. Make me a woman, Phoebe.
Right now, reformers of the Catholic Church are petitioning for women’s right to become priests. In 2008, the Vatican decreed that any woman who sought ordination, or bishop who conferred her holy orders, would be excommunicated; that stance hasn’t changed. Yesterday, Riccardo Tisci, a French fashion house designer of Italian Catholic roots, dressed his models monastically. The look, with high collar jewelry, austere tailoring, and she wears the pants, was more priestly than nunnish. Catholic restraint was literalized in the metal accessories that held the shoulders back, the heads high, and the hips in line. Is there anything loftier than walking in invisi-shoes? Celibacy may be strived for, our sex covered up, but it’s always there, and often more perverted for its denial. Tisci teased us with that fact. Beneath the refined modesty, the body showed. Was this Tisci’s comment on the women-for-priesthood debate? Doubtful. But it does offer a healthier priest sex fantasy than what’s out there.
Here’s where I don’t get the fashion system: After his drunken anti-Semitic comments go viral, John Galliano is ousted from Dior and “steps down” from his namesake brand. But that brand, the one of the tarnished name, is kept afloat, to be continued by John’s old second, Bill Gaytten. Two explanations: first (the image), John Galliano’s design tradition, personal beliefs about Jews aside, is important enough to preserve; second (the business), John Galliano’s brand is still fiscally prosperous enough to continue to invest in. So Bill Gaytten gets to make beautiful, broad clothing under Galliano’s name. Swaths of cotton in black, a whiter shade of lilac, washed-out salmon, and a traffic jam print were crumpled like a Frank Gehry paper model. The U.F.O. landing hats were by Stephen Jones. It was lovely collection—generous, kind, forgiving.