c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

PARIS — Most good days here you sort of feel you are on a collision course, and it’s not only the traffic or a pair of naked protesters at Nina Ricci (well, it was warm in the tent) or the bystanders who have come to watch the freak parade. No, it’s the clothes that constantly work you over.

From the lingerie whiteness of Peter Copping’s poplin blouses and skirts for Nina Ricci to the human force of Rick Owens’ burly step dancers to the shiny candy-wrapper dresses at Lanvin, it’s a jolting train of images. And that was just in the span of a few hours. There was still Raf Simons’ brilliant Dior show to come.

There were so many collisions at Ricci: Copping’s earnest attempt to give masculine weight to his flouncy designs with 18th-century waistcoats, and the divine comedy of a male security guard trying to tackle two female protesters, one with “Fashion Dictator” scrawled on her breasts.

Anyway, the show made the same point: most fashion is a dictatorship. It tells women that appearance is important, more than achievement, without really offering the short or heavyset or older woman much more than a handbag. It’s a sour view of humanity. And where is the imagination that can help materialize Nina Ricci’s wispy femininity for a new world?

Clearly the women in Owens’ show, which followed, did not fit the master-image of fashion magazines. They were stocky, predominantly black and joyful. But Owens doesn’t fit the image, either, and he has flourished.

“I’m scared,” Alber Elbaz said after his Lanvin show. “I’m scared a retailer is going to come into the showroom and ask, ‘Does this exist in nonshiny fabric?’”

He was only half serious, because he trusts his instincts. The shapes in this cool collection are all relaxed: T-shirts, jumpsuits, shifts. They just happen to be in shiny fabrics like lamé, all of which were washed. So deal with it. And my first impression was that it was too much. But put the garments in the context of real life, and they give pleasure.

Hussein Chalayan’s collection stood out for different reasons: He considered the need for lightweight clothes that have polish and surprise. Most striking were tailored shorts with a deep slit on one leg so they suggested a skirt, worn with jackets-cum-blouses. Everything was a sophisticated solution to heat.

As a men’s designer, Raf Simons always commanded the attention and respect of insiders. But now, in less than two years at Dior, he has everyone’s attention. His collections are jolts to the senses. And they make you ask: Why can’t more designers excite in this fashion?

On Friday, he revisited the Dior garden theme with an open-to-the-sky canopy over a space completely filled in with flowers and vines. Some of the flowers were fresh and others fake, their artificiality accentuated with paint. If this jungle seemed a bit poisonous —well, that was the intention.

“I wanted a harder attitude,” Simons said.

He means something not conventionally “hard,” like street-wear or grunge, or literally hard, like bonded fabrics. Rather, he means something that is a bit futuristic, maybe jarring, and quite possibly alienating. This is adult stuff.

His first Dior shows addressed shape. This time, the ideas are freer. For instance, he presented cotton shirt dresses: slim, simply cut with a twist in front, and a keyhole opening. Underneath was a contrasting top —say, in navy beading. The look was gorgeous, a combination of classically chic and subtly futuristic.

There were jackets, pin-neat, with shorts finished with pleated floral organza. Such a simple idea. Pleating was a big story, brilliantly conveyed with print dresses in which the pleats were snared with bands. On the bands were phrases like “ultra-violet mouth” and “whisper yellow.” They came as an insistent, indeed artificial intrusion in the prettiness.

The show offered so many things to look at — from the wisteria clumps of beaded necklaces, to the intense colors (of which Simons is the master), to the new interpretation of Dior’s tailoring. And no doubt everyone will be looking.