The question at the heart of fashion season was, in a way: ‘what’s the point?’

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On the catwalk for Louis Vuitton in Paris.

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The last long walk of fashion month took place on an excavated 12th-century moat by the walls of the medieval castle that formed part of the foundation of the Louvre. An uplit passageway lined with metal stools by Japanese designer Teruaki Ohashi led inexorably to the Great Sphinx of Tanis at the end of the tunnel. Where the Louis Vuitton show began.

So what riddle required answering?

Not “Why are logos back?” (although it’s a legitimate query). But rather: “What makes fashion meaningful today?”

Or thus asked Nicolas Ghesquiere at the end of a punctuation mark of a show. To be specific, he said, standing outside the museum as guests including Jennifer Connelly and Alicia Vikander paid their respects, he was thinking: “Anachronism: how today can we incorporate pieces considered as costume into an everyday wardrobe?”

But in its essence he was paraphrasing the question at the heart of the season – which is, to a certain extent, the question at the heart of every season. (Another way of thinking of it is as: “What’s the point?”) Against a backdrop of increasingly urgent global trauma and issues much more imperative than what clothes go on your back, however, it has seemed particularly pressing.

And it has inspired, over the course of the four-city circus of ready-to-wear, a variety of responses. Consensus has been harder to achieve.

On the one hand are those designers who believe it is fashion’s responsibility to reflect reality; on the other, those who think it should provide an escape hatch. On the one hand, those who see themselves as the chroniclers of fact; on the other, those who hold with fiction. On the one, those who intone “dark” and “complex”; on the other, those who spout words like “optimism” and “celebration”.

Thom Browne, for example, being a proponent of the latter. Making his womenswear debut in Paris after decamping from New York (he has long shown his menswear in the French capital), he created an otherworldly dreamscape of a story to frame an otherworldly collection.

Giant white paper globes hung from the ornate ceiling of the Hotel de Ville, transforming the gilded city hall into an alien universe, and two spacewomen who looked an awful lot like couture versions of the Michelin Man danced in the aisles. Then out came an extraordinary array of classic fabrics – seersuckers and golf club madras and houndstooth – rewoven in tulle and reconceived in the attenuated, exaggerated lines of a nighttime reverie.

Knits were quilted like puffa jackets and climbed the body to swallow the head like a giant tortoiseshell. Skirts floated like islands of shredded tulle under oversize jackets. In the end, a woman in a white long-line corset and bolero jacket appeared, leading a unicorn (OK: a giant unicorn puppet.)

“Well, this is what a child’s fantasy might be,” Browne said backstage. “Mine, too, I guess. That’s what fashion should be.”

Although perhaps not, according to Miuccia Prada, who announced that, with her Miu Miu show, she was more interested in trying to understand “how to make beauty possible in real life, when it isn’t secluded in the museum, or the hotel.”

So she took sheer lace dresses and layered them over argyle vests and knee socks; added distressed leather bows to the shoulders of lumberjack shirts; mixed up tablecloth prints and 1970s plaids; spackled Crombie-style coats with dangling diadems. And, most pointedly (although she said not consciously), cast the most diverse lineup of the week: More than half her models were non-Caucasian. Welcome to Main Street.

At least in the hands of Ghesquiere such thesis and antithesis finally reached a kind of synthesis via elaborate reinventions of 18th-century French and British frock coats – in silver and gold brocade, in leather, in assorted florals – paired with silk boxer shorts and patent-leather jeans, tossed on over “Stranger Things” T-shirts and sneakers. Oh, this old Louis XIV thing? I wear it to the gym every day.

Combining the historically elaborate and the technically aerobic is not a new idea –Ghesquiere has explored the same territory before, in his Balenciaga years, and Alexander McQueen did, too – but this time around it had a polish and momentum (most looks were shown with sneakers) that had currency.

The peacocking men’s pieces were no longer relics from an archive designed to transport everyone back to the court of the Sun King; the gym wear was no longer waiting for its personal trainer. Both had become equal variables in a wardrobe.

As Ghesquiere pointed out, when you wear sports clothes all the time, they stop being sports clothes; ditto costume.

Riddle me this: What happens then?

They become simply “our clothes”.

New York Times

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