In Paris, Fashion Is Juggling Reality And Fantasy

This season's Sophie' Choice: confront the bitter reality of life or escape it?

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Clare Waight Keller was ending a six-year chapter at Chloé, while Maria Grazia Chiuri was just getting warmed up at Dior.

And yet both of their collections — Keller's final and Chiuri's second in their current roles — sum up the current state of play in Paris right now. The city's designers seem to be split into two schools of thought: confront the bitter reality of life or escape it. Push your shirtsleeves up and resist? Or cover yourself in glitter and ignore reality altogether?

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At Chloé, the theme was an 'edgy dream world of psychedelic optimism,' with its girl falling down a 'rabbit hole of decades,' according to Waight Keller. And while this collection didn't go as far into la la land as some of the others we've seen this month (no crystal-encrusted bodysuits here), its misty references to the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties read as escapism nonetheless.

She showed graphic mini dresses made girly with puff sleeves, star-patterned lace, cloud embroideries and oversized butterfly collars. On the models' feet, a mix of mary-jane and t-bar shoes to add to the vintage feeling of it all.

She broke the nostalgia up with a series of slouchy trousers, graphic jumpers, patchwork sweatshirts and button down shirts, that looked more like the cool, slightly tomboyish Chloé woman of recent collections (and more desirable as a result.)

This collection also confirmed the Seventies, from its tan and tobacco colour palette to its bold, furry outerwear and big collars, as one of the season's decades of choice.

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Maria Grazia Chiuri's second collection for Dior also looked to the past. But she did so without the hyper-femininity or rose-tinted nostalgia.

In fact, this collection was all about the now, through an exploration of the colour navy blue — 'a colour that can never compete with black' according to Christian Dior in The Little Dictionary Of Fashion.

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Besides being the couturier's favourite colour, the shade is packed with allegory and meaning that Chiuri explored here. Her press notes described it as 'the symbol of holy virgins and kings' and 'the colour of work wear.' She also highlighted its 'social quality,' noting that blue 'encapsulates a real cross-section in terms of gender, age and social class.'

What this meant for the clothes was a lineup done entirely in black and navy, heavy on utility and work wear —jumpsuits, trench coats, trim bar jackets, full, pleated skirts and dresses and some excellent denim, with every single look topped off with a black, leather beret.

These were clothes that sometimes bordered on the austere, reflecting the seriousness of the message screen printed on the white scarves distributed to each show guest: 'Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.' And in a way, the political and social message carried more punch the clothes.

Those leather berets weren't just decoration. Historically, it's a hat for revolutionaries. And even though Chiuri didn't say as much outright, it's impossible to look at a runway full of women wearing them, while dressed in navy and black, dark glasses covering their eyes, and not think of images of Che Guevara, the Black Panthers (a party that had 2/3 women membership) or women of the Chicano Brown Berets.

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This was a step forward from her feminist statement of SS17. Though Chiuri's message would have reverberated more strongly had she shown the collection on models of a broader age range (her press notes did allude to this after all.) The casting seemed like a missed opportunity in a season where brands have been embracing diversity of age, and reflecting the women who buy the clothes in a more meaningful way. Because the clothes, though youthful at heart, really did have an ageless appeal.

Not that this collection was all practicality. Chiuri brought back her astrological references (planets, comets, moons and stars) through the embroidery on her taffeta, velvet and tulle dresses. Because we could all use a little break from reality now and again.

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