Threads of Thought

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

PARIS, March 5

The fall collection shows ended here Sunday night with a model in the Miu Miu presentation walking off the runway in a strawberry-colored jacket and skirt that was girlish and sweetly well mannered -- but looked for all the world like it was constructed from the waffle-textured packing material that might cushion your new laptop.

The shows can say a lot about the way women are viewed because in fashion they serve as inspiration, raw material -- and customer. How do designers treat those fragile young models who will wear whatever they are told? How does a designer treat his willing victims?

Designers try hard here to elevate fashion to an art form. And they often find themselves tangled in pretentiousness while delivering unintentional abuse upon the female form. Yet fashion can be among the purest expressions of beauty, too, and one so emotional that it moves a person to tears, gleeful giggles or financial recklessness.

Most women will never wear one of designer Miuccia Prada's stiffly constructed, camel-colored suits with their boxy jackets and pleated skirts that stand away from the body. But her sweaters, with their almost geometric volume, may worm their way into more wardrobes. Only the most daring young woman may ever wear one of her sheer camel skirts. But a more conservative one might choose one of the equally revealing cardigans.

Prada's waffle-textured jackets and skirts in pale shades of sherbet looked familiar yet still surprising. We expect those shapes but not in fabric like that. Prada makes women look at their surroundings in a different way. Through this collection, with its welcoming colors and pleasing shapes, she encourages her audience to see beauty in unfamiliar places. That FedEx padded envelope? Don't laugh, you might be wearing a jacket made out of that same material someday. After all, Prada convinced a lot of people that a handbag made of industrial nylon is as precious as one made of leather.

Prada excels in merging creativity and logic, a rare ability in the fashion industry. The most exuberantly imaginative designers are often the least reasonable. They don't care if a woman can't sit in a dress as long as those giant mirrored discs on her rear end look "fierce."

Alexander McQueen

Lack of logic was one of the many problems that plagued designer Alexander McQueen when he presented his collection Friday. His line was inspired by the discovery that a distant relative, Elizabeth How, had been killed in Salem in 1692 after having been accused of practicing witchcraft. Bring on the blood-red pentagrams!

He could not have asked for a more perfect evening. A light but steady rain was falling. And for a locale, he chose a stadium on the outskirts of Paris, which gave the audience an immediate sense of beleaguered isolation.

But McQueen got lost in the theatricality of his show, with videos of crawling bugs, translucent fetuses and skulls. He cranked up the soundtrack with jarring music and the sound of nails on a chalkboard. He turned down the lights until you could barely see the person sitting next to you with the expression of horrified disbelief.

He sent his models out in dresses molded like an egg. They wore constricting corsets. Another had her torso encased in what could best be described as a ready-to-wear iron lung. The models looked pained and persecuted. And while there were several beautiful evening gowns, particularly one with a fluid silver bodice and black skirt, they were overshadowed by a presentation that reeked of anger and violence.

One editor suggested that McQueen was not demeaning women but rather underscoring their ability to overcome all obstacles. Even shackles cannot hold them down. Maybe that was his intent. But that analysis sounds like something from the mouth of a "Law and Order: SVU" perp just before the handcuffs are slapped on.

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