By Jess Cartner-Morley
Designers have been banging the drum for tracksuits and gender-fluidity for the last two years. So why is this symbol of femininity trending on the Paris catwalk?
Paris fashion week is almost over, bringing catwalk season to a close four weeks after the circus rolled into New York. And here’s what it boils down to: soon, you will want to wear a pink dress.
Wait. A dress? A pink dress? Is this the same fashion industry that’s been banging the drum for tracksuit bottoms and gender fluidity for the past two years? Indeed. More of which in a moment. But first, a little more about the pink dress.
At Balenciaga on Sunday morning, in a hangar-sized venue on the Périphérique divided into corridor-shaped catwalks by plain white curtains, the way beds are on a hospital ward, it was a watermelon-pink dress, which swung loose from turtleneck to knee, long sleeves almost meeting duck-egg blue gloves, the skirt slashed to one hip. At Céline, where the catwalk meandered around disorienting curves of two-way glass, which caused one model to completely lose her bearings halfway through the show, the shade was flamingo and the drapes sunrayed out from the breastbone, a dress overlaid with a cape – half superhero, half twinset. At Valentino, under the frescoes and chandeliers of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, it was knee-length (again), high at the neck, draped, a cape-dress hybrid, this time in the classic Paris fashion week shade of Schiaparelli pink. At Givenchy, that evening, in the gardens of the Natural History Museum it was ballet-slipper pink, high-necked, with silk fringing and sweeping long sleeves. The next day at Hermès, it was fuschia, in parachute-silk, cut on the bias for soft movement.
What on earth is going on? With hindsight, Rihanna nailed it a week ago, when she took her bow after her Fenty x Puma collection – in a floor-length pink coat dress and three strings of pearls – and described the look as “what Marie Antoinette would wear to go to the gym.” Athleisure has come to dominate fashion not just because people go to the gym more, but because fashion reflects the psychological weather out there. The rise in status of sport as referenced in what we wear reflects how our new value system prizes action, “making stuff happen”, over the old standards of propriety, formality, and expertise. This isn’t only about action in the literal physical exercise sense – it connects to the Vogue-versus-the-bloggers debate, which is the old world versus the new, the upstarts getting in the faces (literally, at the shows) of the establishment. Fashion week is a bit like a ouija board: someone’s probably pushing the glass, but the exercise ends up being revealing anyway.
If you look beyond pink, the same essential dress silhouette is everywhere: more languid at Chloé, structured and architectural at Loewe, racer-back sporty at Stella McCartney. The pink is there for emphasis, a statement about this being a particularly female moment at Paris fashion week. Even before Kim Kardashian’s ordeal, the Paris fashion week headlines were about women alone, from Rihanna channelling the lonely figure of Marie Antoinette to the debut of Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first woman to design Christian Dior. Grazia Chiuri’s influence has been pervasive this week, not just in her slogan feminism at Dior but in that her rise to prominence has put the Valentino look with which she made her name at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The Valentino look revolves around narrow-shouldered, slim-sleeved dresses with an essential quality, which Chiuri calls “grace”. Grace, she says, is “like elegance, but more subtle.”
Pink dresses are part of the new world order in that they don’t obey traditional rules. They are not cocktail dresses, or party dresses, or power dresses, or any of the established department-store categories. But while they are dresses for striding out, they are not for the gym. And rather than being futuristic, they are loaded with historical references, from Guinevere to Marie Antoinette to Elsa Schiaparelli.
Just at the moment when it seemed that fashion might be entirely subsumed into the athleisure industry, the pink dress is fashion week’s declaration of independence. It is fashion flying its very own colours from the flagpole. Which is excellent news as far as I am concerned, because there are only so many bra tops you need to see, even on Gigi Hadid. And if I ever do feel the need to see a procession of expensive running leggings I can always go and watch my local half marathon. I’ll be the one wearing the pink dress.