Controversy, frivolity mark day one of Paris Fashion Week

PARIS — The pioneering Black performer Josephine Baker — who left the United States to find global fame in Paris in the 1920s — was Dior’s muse for an old school spring couture collection of archetypal classicism.

With her caressing velvets and silks, embroideries, sequins and tiny silver studs, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri may not have reinvented the wheel, but she certainly embellished it beautifully on the first day Monday of Paris Fashion Week.

Yet the event’s first day wasn’t without controversy after Dior was criticized for inviting a Russia influencer sanctioned by Ukraine. Moreover, Schiaparelli was the subject of online ire for glamorizing trophy hunting after featuring a fake lion’s head.

Here are some highlights of the first day of spring-summer haute couture displays:

DIOR’S BAKER

Lining the perfume-scented interiors of an annex inside the Rodin Museum gardens were giant images by African-American artist Mickalene Thomas of Josephine Bake alongside other Black American female icons.

The stark tableaux photographs documented Baker’s extraordinary life and her many roles: as member of the French Resistance, civil rights activist and humanist as well as dancer and performer.

Guests took their seats, curious and excited.

According to Dior, a series of coats, a take on bathrobe styles depicted “the cozy, intimate dressing room that precedes (Baker’s) entrance on stage.” In couture terms they were undeniably beautiful, if somewhat restrained. The first came in silk velvet; its black diamond lapels hung with a dramatic weight. It was worn over delicately smocked satin swimwear in a take on the 1950s. Elsewhere, knit-like mesh made of silk and steel beads cut a fine vintage style on one ensemble, while also evoking a quiet female power. It was worn on a gleaming, crushed velvet evening robe to suggest intimacy.

Later, Chiuri slightly let her hair down and got her fringe on. Baker’s heyday was evoked in a steel beaded mesh skirt trimmed with sparkling fringe.

Although the theme created an expectation the Dior clothes themselves may offer some powerful exploration of racism or being Black, the collection itself remained very Parisian. It was only a veiled homage to the Black pioneer who fought battles against race, gender and nationality all her life.

That being said, it was admirable how many models of color walked the show — in over half the 60 looks — especially because of the fact Paris Fashion Week, and the luxury industry as a whole, have wrestled with persistent accusations of being white-centric.

MAISIE WILLIAMS PLAYS DIOR’S SISTER

“Game of Thrones” star Maisie Williams looked every bit the part posing against images of stars such as Earth Kitt, Nina Simone and Baker with pixie hairstyle and Dior bustier to flashes of photographers’ lenses.

Williams called coming to the show “such a dream,” in part because she has just played Dior’s sister, Catherine Dior, in the highly anticipated Apple TV drama series “The New Look” — which center on the bitter rivalry between the couturier and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

Williams, who found fame playing the feisty Arya Stark, told the Associated Press that “I find the Dior woman to be something to really aspire to,” calling the clothes “powerful” for women.

“The women that I love to play have qualities that align,” she said.

SANCTIONED RUSSIAN INFLUENCER INVITED

Dior provoked criticism online for extending a Paris couture show invitation to a Russian TV presenter called Yana Rudkovskaya, who was sanctioned by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Jan. 15 for her connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other houses have reportedly refused to allow Rudkovskaya, who is an influencer, into their shows.

Rudkovskaya posted a photo of her Dior couture invitation on Instagram. Some journalists asked how many “other sanctioned Russians are attending Paris Haute Couture?”

SCHIAPARELLI MAKES SURREAL TWISTS

Glamorous frivolity, exaggerated silhouettes and surreal takes on classics harking from the 1930s heyday of house founder Elsa Schiaparelli.

That was the mood at the first spring-summer couture show of the season — and what a start! — with its lashings of gold, intricate embellishments and rollcall of front row VIPs inside the lofty gilded atrium of the Petit Palais.

Designer Daniel Roseberry was on top form Monday — taking classical styles and giving them unexpected twists. A dark tuxedo with stiff oversize shoulders was transformed into a minimalist, space-age jumpsuit.

A bronze bustier reimagined as a giant oyster shell rose up like a fan that obscured the model’s face. Its incredible pearl embellishments were rendered in organic, crystallized layers showing off the deftness of the house atelier.

Myriad embellished baubles — almost resembling wet pearls — organically dripped off a blown-up bolero jacket that cut a beautiful silhouette, and had perhaps belonged to some underwater princess.

Yet the collection was also reverential to the house founder whose unique brand of frivolity charmed audiences around the world. A giant lion’s head — replete with fangs and bushy mane — modeled by Irina Shayk added a bite to this collection. It was an inventive nod to Surrealism — but also a statement about the absurdity of the use of fur.

Kylie Jenner, who sat front row at Schiaparelli also wearing a 3-D lion’s head and a gold snakeskin bag, was later criticized online amid accusations of glamorizing animal cruelty.

IRIS VAN HERPEN GOES DIGITAL

Against the grain of Paris Fashion Week, which is turning its back on digital, Dutch Wunderkind said of her latest couture offering that she “is proud to announce that… instead of a traditional runway show, the brand shows a digital presentation that allows for more creative freedom and storytelling.”

An in-person presentation accompanied the collection film ‘Carte Blanche,’ in which she teamed up with a French artists called Julie Gautier — exploring how female beauty can be used as a form of control.

A limp red dress, with sinews revealing inches of flesh, resembled a poisonous sea creature, while interlocking circles evoked spiky but precious coral. Billowing blue and silver portions of generous fabric on a gown flowed like an underwater generous — touching on the signature organic inspiration from the award-winning couturier who has designed for artists such as Bjork.

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