Fashion critic

PARIS — At the Chloé show Thursday morning, designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi gave women scarf prints, cropped knits, terrifically junky gold earrings and Grecian sandals. It was a beautifully executed leisure-time collection with inventive silhouettes, just-right proportions, sophisticated prints and sensual vibrancy. To an American eye, it looked distinctively French in that mythologized way that is often described as effortlessly chic.


Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

What that really means is that the clothes and the woman somehow seem meant for each other. And as a result, she looks at ease — confident, relevant and wholly herself. In other words, she is captivating.

[Robin Givhan at Paris Fashion Week: full coverage]

The attraction is not defined by arbitrary rules of beauty. In fact, the women who are described as “effortlessly chic” often have some feature that defies the conventional wisdom about how beauty is defined. Their nose is too pronounced; their hair is kinky; their waist is thick; their face is lined with wrinkles. Still, somehow they are unforgettable.


Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

This is important. Not because of the gaze that they attract but because everyone should be able to move through the world being fully themselves and appreciated because of it. And if fashion can help them do that, then amid the frivolity and frills there is immeasurable value.


Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Ramsay-Levi’s collection was focused on a woman’s casual hours. The clothes are mostly appropriate for someone whose professional life is rather informal. But its effortlessness speaks to a wider point that’s worth making at a time when women — and men — are challenging and rethinking cultural norms and traditions. There is a tendency to think that with so many important issues on the table, from a Supreme Court battle to sexual harassment writ large, there’s no room for fashion. This tension has emerged in some corners of social media, for example. But fashion speaks volumes about the way women, in particular, want to move through life, vs. how they are expected to.


Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Fashion is a language that is rooted in the female vernacular. It should not be silenced or ignored or dismissed. “Effortlessly chic” is a densely packed term that speaks to a woman’s desire to feel comfortable in her skin — to be perceived as valuable and important, not through laborious lobbying on her own behalf but because her worth goes without saying. She is not aiming to be effortlessly sexy because that’s too limiting. Beauty is subjective and ultimately fades.


Chloe Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chloé Spring/Summer 2019 collection (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Chic has no boundaries. It belongs everywhere. And that, put simply, is also true of women.

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‘Outside there is a war,’ so Dior and Gucci offer the fashion equivalent of self-care