Chanel puts on a feminist rally at Paris Fashion Week

Models on the march.
Models on the march.
Image: AP Photo/Francois Mori
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Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director of Chanel, often courts controversy with his fashion shows. The Native American-style headdresses he sent down a runway at a Dallas fashion show last year offended some, as did a quilted gold purse shaped like a gas-can in Dubai earlier this year. This morning’s finale to Chanel’s Spring 2015 show at Paris Fashion Week, staged to resemble a feminist rally, was mild compared to some of his previous social commentary.

More important, it was timely and maybe even appropriate—especially given the tenor of the collection itself.

If you ask me, feminism—that is, the belief in the equality of the sexes—is always in fashion. But it seems to be particularly hot right now. Beyoncé gave feminism an endorsement with mass appeal at the MTV Video Music Awards in August; self-avowed feminist Lena Dunham’s first book comes out today; and earlier this month actress Emma Watson addressed the United Nations with a speech to launch He for She, a campaign that urges men to take up the mantle for gender equality.

Kaiser Karl, who some consider to be a first-class misogynist, may not be the first man that comes to mind for that job, but one of the many signs carried by models in today’s show indeed had the message scrawled across it: He for She. (“Boys should get pregnant too,” read another, perhaps less relevant sign.)

Regardless of whether feminists find Lagerfeld’s show flattering or patronizing, it seems they inspired his designs.

chanel spring 2015 feminist protest paris fashion week
How could you not be inspired? At left, Gloria Steinem, 1973. At right, Chanel Spring 2015.
Image: AP Photo/Richard Drew, AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Several models wore glasses that unmistakably resembled those worn by Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, and their long, straight, unfussy hair styles recalled the era too. (I contacted Steinem for comment; she declined.)

It was a welcome shift from Chanel’s Autumn/Winter 2014 collection, in my opinion. That show was staged in an artificial supermarket, and the collection included hole-pocked pink leggings, velour jumpsuits, and oversized, soft-shouldered coats that didn’t exactly scream “power dressing.” Frankly, it was kind of ugly.

The clothes on the models who marched “Boulevard Chanel” today, by contrast, included a fair number of pieces this feminist may actually want to wear. A outfit of cuffed pants in soft olive suede with a matching shirt that grazed the thighs was particularly appealing—even with a sprawling butterfly collar.