Christian Dior spring/summer 2020 collection. Photo / Jonas Gustavsson - The Washington Post

Dior Takes Over The Runway With Trees At Paris Fashion Week

Why would anyone want Dior coveralls? Never mind, just enjoy its garden-themed Paris Fashion Week show

You know what's going on in the world — the desecration of the planet, the gun violence, the assault on democracy, the everyday cruelties and the exceptional evils. There's no need to go into detail. So we come here, to this magnificent city — this fashion capital — for what, exactly? We come for the clothes, yes. Because fashion is a business, and businesses must carry on. But we come for something less concrete, too: the pleasure, the escape, the opportunity to do better in some precise and significant way.

But egads! So much seems to be conspiring against all of that.

READ: 9 Style Lessons From New York Fashion Week

It's raining. Not a blustery, magnificent, blow-through-the-city-with-a-roar storm. Instead, it's spittle. An annoying spray that alternates with big blobs of water. It's turning the sandy pathway into the afternoon's Dior spring 2020 show into a mud puddle. The ladies in their Dior regalia are stepping gingerly up a muddy little ramp. Oh, yes, they've been looking forward to this day as they stop and take selfies in front of the brand's logo at the Hippodrome ParisLongchamp. This mean-spirited rain is mucking with their hair. It's making picture-taking more difficult. And it just seems as if the gods are being petty to ruin what should be their lovely day by spitting on it.

Maria Grazia Chiuri is the first woman to serve as creative director of this storied brand, and she revels in making that history. She puts women — their art, their stories, their importance — at the centre of her presentations, using her runway shows as an opportunity to comment on the state of womankind. Sometimes the message is more interesting than the clothes, which have sometimes been terribly eccentric and sometimes just frightfully dull.

For spring, Chiuri was inspired by gardens and the way in which they symbolize the coming together of diverse species. Dior's sister was also a devoted gardener, and so there's that little footnote. Mostly, Chiuri is enamoured with the way in which gardens must be tended, and if they are tended with care and attention, they prosper. Gardening is also a wonderfully flexible metaphor. So much these days — women's rights, diversity, sustainable production — could benefit from a bit of nurturing.

The models walk through a grove of trees brought in for the occasion. Each tree has a long rectangular tag hanging from its branches that reads, "Planting for the future." The audience is sitting on bleachers cushioned with little burlap-covered pillows. And the runway is essentially a field of dirt. The models are dressed like gardeners — very expensively dressed gardeners — in short, flared dresses with nipped waists, breezy dresses decorated with swirling garden patterns, fancy coveralls, raffia skirts and elegantly scruffy bucket hats created by milliner Stephen Jones.

READ: This Italian Company Wants Your Fashion To Be Made From Rubbish

Why would a woman want a pair of Dior coveralls? Who knows? But if they make her happy, that's nothing to dismiss because happiness is a splendid, elusive emotion. No, those coveralls are not particularly great-looking as a matter of design. In fact, they're pretty odd, and they don't really make sense as something that a luxury house would produce. But we've all seen stranger things. No need to get worked up over them. There's too much else to focus on, too many problems to solve. Impeachment! Will Brexit ever be figured out? What's with the homogeneous writing teams in late-night television in 2019? Oh, and by the way, Earth is overheating.

You need a respite. So go on. Indulge in your silly coveralls.

Chiuri didn't explicitly make her collection about sustainability and climate change, but with all the talk of gardens and "acting in harmony with nature" that seemed to be a through-line in the collection. So you can't help but assess the whole experience for environmental friendliness. There was the ride to the far-flung venue and the idling in the traffic. But the car was a hybrid, and it was filled to capacity with passengers, so could it really have been that bad? There were pages and pages of show notes, including one piece of paper that had exactly two words printed on it. Then after the show ended, Dior sent out an email with the exact same information. That's definitely not good.

That lovely forest of trees was going to be planted. But couldn't the show have been mounted in a preexisting grove of trees so that new ones didn't have to be shipped in? And. But. But. But. What exactly is the right thing to do? It's so hard to get everything just right.

So sometimes, it's a relief to focus on the small things. Not the way in which the fashion industry represents women or the degree to which it's inclusive or the manner in which it treats its workers, but whether the world needs another bedazzled dress. Yes. Yes, the world needs as much sparkle and glitter as designers can muster.

Saint Laurent satisfied that need at its show later that night, when creative director Anthony Vaccarello stuck to his aesthetic of micro-mini skirts and broad-shouldered blazers and tuxedo jackets, many of which were spangled. It's hard to find fault with a jet beaded tuxedo when it's worn by Naomi Campbell, because she has a way of making pretty much everything look splendid.

But the best bits of his spring 2020 collection were the glitter-dusted dresses with coordinating headscarves that glinted against the dark, cloudy sky. The dresses recalled a Hollywood gypsy costume — a mash-up of Russian agrarian worker and Las Vegas. God loves a dirndl skirt in gold lamé.

READ: A New Book Chronicles Yves Saint Laurent's Iconic Haute Couture Collections

The Saint Laurent show was on the south side of the Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower, and outdoors under a modest bit of awning. And after the sun went down, the gods stopped spitting and started lobbing water balloons. It was a mess. Dutiful stagehands kept mopping the massive black runway that was embedded with spotlights whose beams of white light danced along to a soundtrack rumbling with so much bass that your tush vibrated in its seat.

A lot of Saint Laurent was familiar. Depending on your mood, you might describe that as stale or comforting. On a cloud-filled evening in September with the Eiffel Tower sparkling on cue and when so much else is either uncertain or wrong in the world, Saint Laurent looked fun and familiar. And for a moment, it was possible to forget the rain and all the rest. And that's worth a fortune.

— The Washington Post

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