PARIS • Does it make a difference to have a woman as designer at the top of a major couture house?
This was the inevitable question surrounding the debut of Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first woman to be named creative director of Christian Dior in the company's 60-year history.
Symbolically, of course, the answer is, absolutely: There is something bizarrely retrograde about a business that is based on catering to women having never had a woman running it. And given that this year may see a number of women as leaders of major geopolitical powers, it is about time.
This has not escaped Chiuri, who has a son and a daughter, and who said a primary consideration in taking the Dior job was to show members of the next generation that they have "the same opportunities", no matter their gender.
So, in preparation for her first show last Friday, she read not only Dior's classic memoir, but also Women Who Run With The Wolves, the late-20th-century classic of pop psychology and anthropology about the wild woman in us all.
And then she invited as guest of honour Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian writer whose 2013 TEDx talk, We Should All Be Feminists, became a phenomenon when it was sampled for the Beyonce anthem, Flawless.
Adichie sat in the front row next to the usual celebrity crew - actresses Diane Kruger and Marion Cotillard, singer Rihanna and former actress Bianca Jagger - and her presence was as much a statement of change as the white box in the garden of the Musee Rodin, which had been stripped to its simple essence, with pine blocks as benches and pine boards for a runway.
To better showcase... what?
Pure white, in cotton, sometimes quilted, atop trousers cropped knickerbocker-short and frilled tulle petticoats. (Well, what woman doesn't have to thrust and parry now and then? Or what man, for that matter?)
Also glimmering tulle ballet skirts under T-shirts flashing the title of Adichie's speech or the slogan "Dio(r)evolution". Which pretty much summed up the point.
In a preview, Chiuri said they were a nod to Dior's love of tarot, but in practice, they most called to mind her work in her previous job as co-designer of Valentino. All of which is to say there was a lot on the runway, a lot of which will be accessible to many people.
Chiuri was taking all the elements already in the house and doing it her way.
Indeed, unlike any Dior artistic director before, she acknowledged the entire history of the brand: from Christian Dior's bar jacket, here shrunken and remade in cotton with pockets just over the hips to add a bit of curve; to John Galliano's J'adore Dior period, remade as "J'adior" on the waistbands of underpants visible beneath the tulle and on straps of camisoles under bustiers.
She even referred to Hedi Slimane's stint at Dior Homme, adopting his stitch signature for boyfriend jeans.
Oh, and there were classic trench coats and Kill Bill leather motorcycle jackets in there too. It all culminated in a series of sheer spaghetti-strap gowns embroidered in the signs and stars of the zodiac and tarot.
In a preview, Chiuri said they were a nod to Dior's love of tarot, but in practice, they most called to mind her work in her previous job as co-designer of Valentino.
All of which is to say there was a lot on the runway, a lot of which will be accessible to many people.
"I believe fashion should not impose itself on the people who wear it, but be used by them as a way to express themselves," Chiuri said the day before the show.
So, she gave them lots of choices. Fair enough. If they were united by anything, however, it was the desire to use an epee tip to puncture some of the pomposity attached to a heritage house, as opposed to a statement on what defines a woman now.
It was hard not to think, thus, that among all the options - lovely, cool, bourgeois - the most important one was missing.