The deep social meaning of couture fashion in Paris

I thought at first it was a parody – Robin Givran’s Washington Post review of the fall fashion collections in Paris. But no. Givran’s take on the designer Rei Kawakubo’s new collection inspired by the “disenfranchised” was earnest and solemn. Givran begins her review describing an elderly beggar at the Louvre, who is swathed in layers of tattered clothing. She links those garments to those designed by Kawakubo and admires the fact that Kawakubo challenges other designers,’ for instance, “Kawakubo doesn’t believe a shirt requires two armholes.”

But then Givran takes us into the realm of the deep emotions underlying this “prescient” designer’s fashion show:

The show rode a wave of emotion from bliss to anger to sorrow and finally peacefulness. Its mood shifted from light to dark and back again. Rather than responding to the construction of the clothes — because it was impossible to really tell what was going on under all those layers — the audience reacted to the feelings and images those clothes evoked.


But Kawakubo appropriated the one thing that forcefully announces the presence of the disenfranchised in the world, one of the few things that keep them from disappearing: Belongings. The rainbow of fabric in a Sudanese refugee camp, the piles of broken shoes in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a stack of jackets and parkas in a coat drive. We might not see the individual, but we see their plight. We see something.

I guess Givran might think readers would find it frivolous during these tough economic times to trek to Paris to cover fashion. So she ends by linking the designer to today’s uncertain times:

But just when it seems that the fashion industry had given up on saying anything especially moving at a time when the future seems so uncertain, Kawakubo managed to reach beyond the clothes and right down to the complex emotions connected with them.

I was reminded of Miranda Priestly (the Meryl Streep character) in “The Devil Wears Prada” and her lecture about the importance of the fashion industry and “stuff” – with “cerulean” blue as the takeoff. That was satire.