What Does a ‘Woke Woman’ Wear?

The final round of the ready-to-wear collections began here with a quote, and a call to arms.

Etched into the faux adobe over the entrance to the temporary structure erected in the Musée Rodin gardens for the Dior show was a line from the artist Niki de Saint Phalle that began: “If life is a game of cards, we are born without knowing the rules.” Inside, on every seat in the mirror-mosaicked space was a small pamphlet titled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” written in 1971 by the art historian Linda Nochlin.

You’ve got to hand it to the designer Maria Grazia Chiuri — she stands her ground. There’s no waffling here. Whatever the voices whispering in her ear are saying, she does not let them sway her from what she believes. When she joined Dior as its first female artistic director just over a year ago, she picked up the banner of feminism and has been waving it enthusiastically ever since: delving into its literature, discovering its heroines and using them as muses in her shows, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Georgia O’Keeffe and Amelia Earhart.

It should have made her the perfect designer for these “woke women” times. The problem is the disconnect between the inspiration and its expression.

As consistently as she has stuck to her agenda, she has stuck to her separates: couture denim — this season in patchworks of different faded washes and weaves — and Dior-branded underthings: big pants and little bras, reimagined in wide marinière stripes (or jailhouse ones, depending on your reference point), most often worn under sheer tulle ballet skirts. Also the corset top and the character cashmere knit, this time with the dragons, spiders and snakes that marked the work of Ms. Saint Phalle.

But what feminist, even a millennial one, wants to wear a mirrored mosaic onesie in bright pink or blue under a transparent tulle skirt open to the waist that looks like nothing so much as Madonna in her “Desperately Seeking Susan” years? Or a white cotton version over a polka dot shirt with a swiss dot skirt below and a white jacket over it all, as if to give new meaning to the term play suit? These are not the clothes of revolution, even New Look revolution.

Her research into Ms. Saint Phalle led her to discover that the artist was close to the former Dior designer Marc Bohan, and many of the pieces of ’60s and ’70s-inspired day wear — little black bib frocks paired with over-the-knee socks; Grand Prix-checked pea coats; a cherry red leather trench, soft as butter, over matching pleated culottes; some simple pantsuits in shrunken proportions — were variations on looks he had created for the artist during his tenure. And a lot of them, in Ms. Chiuri’s hands, looked good, or at least better than those playsuits, which sort of undermined the whole exercise.

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