Who’s a Fashion Victim Now?

In a sign of just how upside down and surreal the idea of fashion is at the moment, at the end of the Dior show on Tuesday — the first big show of the final week of the collections (yes, they are still going on) — a woman popped onto the runway waving a big yellow banner that read “We Are All Fashion Victims.”

And most of the audience, including the Dior chief executive, was not sure if she was a protester or part of the finale.

As it turned out, she wasn’t a Dior model, but a member of Extinction Rebellion, the environmental organization whose goals include trying to put an end to fashion week, with all its associated waste and carbon footprint (less, actually, this season than ever before). But you can understand the confusion.

Credit...Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

After all, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s artistic director of women’s wear, has rarely met a feminist slogan she didn’t want to splash on a show. It wouldn’t have been outside the realm of possibility, given everything that is going on in the world and the way the pandemic has hit not just fashion but all its related industries, to imagine she was issuing some meta-commentary on the business.

Especially given that right now the messaging and the mediums (live shows and livestreams; short films and look books; puppet shows and paper dolls) are all messed up.

Besides, there was, in fact, a slogan of sorts involved. Not on the runway but on the shift dresses of an all-female choir that provided the music for the show. To be specific, “Destiny is in your hands,” a line from the artist Lucia Marcucci that Ms. Chiuri keeps on her office wall.

Credit...Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times
Credit...Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

But here’s the thing: For once, it actually made sense. Both in the show and beyond it.

We keep being told the world is teetering on the edge. Things may all fall apart. What we choose to do now — who we vote for; what actions we take, or don’t take; what protests we join — matters.

Even what we choose to wear. And not just when it comes to masks.

So the choir members, their voices raised in a 19th-century lament, alternately elegiac and in full atonal wail, stood in a giant black box built to mimic a cathedral with soaring stained glass windows composed of brightly tinted collages by Ms. Marcucci, as models in highly worked artisanal loungewear streamed out.

There were tapestry knits and elastic-waisted embroidered trousers, easy collarless jackets that harkened back to Japanese housecoats tied around the waist with rope belts and faded chambray denim dresses inset with flowers. There was rainbow jute and Indonesian Ikat and ankle-length dresses in whispering chiffon. All of it inspired, Ms. Chiuri said in a Zoom call after the show, by the belief that rather than force the body to conform to an idea of dress (what she called the underpinning of couture, especially Dior’s famous Bar jacket), dress, right now, had to shape itself according to the body.

Credit...via Thebe Magugu
Credit...via Thebe Magugu

The result was beauty without escapism or the infantilism of her recent playsuit obsession (or the hokey fantasy of her couture video). Eschewing the Bar — born out of the crucible of World War II, and perhaps having finally served its purpose — and acknowledging that this is a new time, with new needs, seemed to have set her free.

In any case, Ms. Chiuri was not the only designer thinking destiny.

It was also the subject of Thebe Magugu’s video, “Counter Intelligence,” one of the best fashion films of the season, which told an illuminating story about the way clothes are used to conceal, reveal and otherwise create identity. It was told through the real-life accounts of men and women who were spies under South Africa’s former apartheid government. Shot as if captured on CCTV, with voice-over descriptions of how young women and men were conscripted and used, Mr. Magugu dressed his spies not in the trench coats and fedoras of pop culture imagination but in the body-conscious ribbed knits, asymmetric fan pleats and cool trouser suits of seduction.

Credit...via Marine Serre
Credit...via Marine Serre

Even then, all was not as it seemed: A polka-dot print was actually composed of scanned thumbprints of a former agent; a blouse was printed with an actual confession.

And destiny was the subject of Marine Serre’s sci-fi short, compelling and creepy in equal measure. It traced the journey of two characters from a featureless laboratory, crisply tailored in head-to-toe half-moon print and recycled black moiré suiting. They moved through an arid wasteland populated by different tribes, in clothing created from upcycled carpeting, and on to a future where the leather skeleton of a ball gown was worn like a harness atop a bodysuit: clothes as both communal signals and protection.

(Speaking of protection, this is turning into a trend. At Anrealage, in a presentation filmed at the foot of Mount Fuji, tents turned into clothes and hats into lampshades, all bathed in a suspiciously Crayola-happy pop culture light. At Kenzo, mosquito netting dripped from giant hats like portable personal shelters, shadowing a collection of rose-tinted utilitarianism.)

Credit...via Anrealage
Credit...Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Serre’s film was called “Amor Fati,” the Latin phrase that inspired both the Stoics and Nietzsche. That’s a somewhat portentous combination, but the point is simple enough: You can’t choose your fate, but you can choose how you react to it. You can hide from it, rail against it or wear it well.

Not be a victim. Fashion or otherwise.

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