The Revenge of the Bourgeoisie

The Revenge of the Bourgeoisie

PARIS — On Saturday in Paris the barricades went up at the foot of the Champs-Élysées, as they have every weekend since November, in anticipation of the marching of the “Yellow Vests” and their economic protest.

The stretch of avenues from the Tuileries through the Place de la Concorde and the Élysée Palace to the Grand Palais became something of a walled-off city; no vehicles allowed. It didn’t faze the French, who shrugged and said things were calmer; this was just the way it was now, and would probably be for awhile.

Welcome to the new normal. Everyone’s adjusting. Fashion, too.

Designers finally have stopped chasing the youth vote. The obsession with Gens Y and Z and meeting them where they live and speaking their (sneaker-shod) language appears at an end. (It was always a little absurd to imagine it would be those kids who bought these clothes anyway.) The creative minds are seeking equilibrium elsewhere; finding it in — of all places — the bourgeoisie.

The comfortably well-off and established, the disturbingly satisfied, the bon chic bon genre, are suddenly the muses of the moment.

It began with Burberry in London and arrived in Paris in a black box borne forward from the past — the 1970s to be exact — constructed by, of all people, Hedi Slimane, artistic director and lord-of-all-things at Celine, as well as erstwhile worshiper of all things young, skinny and done after dark.

Yet there was the box, descending like a mirage from the ceiling of a show space constructed in the shadow of the Invalides, to disgorge … not the twig-like just-post-adolescent in truncated taffeta of his first collection for the brand (and his former work at Saint Laurent) but rather a woman in tweed culottes, gray jacket, pussy-bow blouse, knee-high leather boots, aviator shades and a chain bag.

Hello, new Celine! Or rather old Celine, relic of the era when the brand’s founder, Céline (with an accent) Vipiana, actually ran it. At Saturday’s show, a retailer in her seventh decade leaned over and whispered, “I own a few of those culottes. I bought them the first time around.”

This time around they came in gray wool and leather, camel and houndstooth, pleated and straight. They came with suit jackets and aviator jackets and quilted cardigans and marinières. They came interspersed with faded jeans paired with over-the-knee shearling-lined boots, sweeping capes and giant feral furs, as well as buttoned-up silk midi dresses with discreet frills here and there. They came with many, many iterations of shoulder bags. They even came in golden sequins paired with a golden cardigan. They came merchandised to the hilt. They came as an entirely literal interpretation of classic convention, with an ironic undertone.

It was a little surreal (Mr. Slimane, who once ran the house of “Belle du Jour,” knows his Luis Buñuel). It was also hard not to laugh.

The designer had pulled the rug out from under the critics, including this one, who had balked last September at his Celine debut and accused him of not acknowledging his antecedents. He also produced an enormous amount of very salable stuff that should make his employers very happy (he has always been a stellar merchandiser). And he did that thing designers are supposed to do but which many have been waffling about thus far because, hey, it’s hard to commit when the world is so confusing: he stuck his finger in the wind and made a bet on a new direction a-blowin’.

Mr. Slimane is known more for his self-seriousness than his humor, but the whole show was practically a punchline. Street style? It’s not just for kids, or exhibitionists, any more. This is, after all, what a certain swath of women used to wear when they left the house.

In any case, Mr. Slimane was not alone in having culottes and grown-ups on his mind.

They showed up too, at Hermès (well, they would, wouldn’t they, given that this is the house with the greatest claim over the wardrobes of the French bourgeoisie) courtesy of Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, in the form of straight leather knickerbockers, the buckes left undone, amid a show of sophisticated outerwear — blanket cashmere coats with a single statement patch pocket, black suede jackets speckled with metal studs of different sizes like so many planets and stars — metallic scarf print T-shirts, and supple leather dresses with tuxedo frills (ignore the micro leather shorts).

Also Altuzarra, where Joseph Altuzarra mixed pleated leather pants with swishy one-shouldered tunic-and-trouser sets, and metallic floral cocktail dresses ruched around the body à la old Ungaro, and Haider Ackermann, whose sharp-edged tailoring for both women and men in black, white and red, has the high-gloss allure of the eternally chic.

It’s funny how appealing it is when clothes have no age limit. They can actually make you smile.

So did the surprise slipped in at Yohji Yamamoto, amid the darkly lyrical drapery and paint-splashed wraps: padded hands emerging out of the blackness, middle finger extended, ever so elegantly, at the world. And the fact that Junya Watanabe put his ode to upcycling — cut-and paste housedresses and denim, sofa florals and military parkas, U.C.L.A. sweatshirts and grandpa cardigans — on pairs of demon twins. Consume thoughtlessly if you dare.

Even Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, in an otherwise moody show she termed “the gathering of shadows” that featured strapped-on bulbous leather appendages that alternately obscured and revealed tropes of coy femininity, decorated a tailcoat beneath a giant bulletproof bra vest with drawer pulls, hat hooks and — knockers.

Get it?

It was a moment of levity in a collection that was otherwise full of both peekaboo provocation and protective foreboding: sculptural chaps and shoulder armor atop frills and fishnets, crinolines and plastic flowers; insectoid hoods swallowing faces; netting poured over swathes of bubble wrap; chopped-up quilted patent panniers.

The point is not, of course, clothes (Hey! We now have Celine for that) but rather meta-commentary on the cultural mood. At the end, her shadows gathered together in the middle of the room in a circle, not unlike a witch’s coven, and formed a united blob.

There was a power in the solidarity of their sisterhood. Whatever the social uniform.

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