PARIS — Deciphering the language of public dress, especially dress worn by the powerful and the popular, has become a form of competitive sport these days, practiced in the arenas of Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
“The Message of So-and-So’s Outfit” is so common a descriptor when it comes to the images consumed en masse, it is turning into a cliché. That doesn’t make it any less part of the modern condition, however, or mean that the filter-down effect doesn’t apply to everyone, once they step out their door.
It’s fashion’s job to keep adding to the vernacular; updating, revising and otherwise offering new modes of self-expression through skirts (and pants and shirts and so on). Or at least offering new ways to think about it.
So there was Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior, name-checking Catherine de Medici, the Italian wife of King Henry II of France, and the only woman who, as regent, has ever ruled France. It was Catherine who was among the earliest women, Ms. Chiuri said during a preview, to “use dress to define power.”
Catherine wore black for decades after her husband’s death, making it so synonymous with her name that she was known as “the Black Queen”; introduced platform shoes to court to give herself height and presence; and favored steel-boned corsets to add an air of intractability (she also liked lace, and lavish parties, and commissioned the Tuileries Palace — construction began 1564 in Paris; it was burned down by the Paris Commune in 1871 — and the Tuileries Garden, where the Dior show was held). She deployed her wardrobe to communicate her position to the world.
Ms. Chiuri used it as a starting point.
She enlisted Eva Jospin, the artist daughter of Lionel Jospin, a former prime minister of France, to build an otherworldly grotto crafted from cardboard and wood, dripping in vines and rising up from the earth. In it she stashed a dancer, clad in a skin-tone leotard and leather breast plate painted to resemble the naked body.
Then around it she sent … hoop skirts. Among the most arcane of female garments. In mostly black, but also white and a goldtone raffia, worked into a lattice of almost three-dimensional blooms. It was an odd choice — visually effective but practically hard to imagine, even worn with soft, quilted corsets buckled on above over thin tank tops, like some form of courtly streetwear.
Along with them came strapless little dresses with bell-shape skirts to mid-thigh, and a host of boudoir styles that wore their exposure with a subversive nonchalance: bralets that wrapped around the back to be secured in the front with a ribbon and bow at the rib cage, lace-trimmed boxer shorts, nightshirts and long skirts tossed on top but left undone, so they billowed behind like a train.
There was not a Bar jacket in sight (the only jackets were ruched bombers and some floral jacquard car coats). Instead there was the body, couched in the idioms of history.
And the body, especially the female body, has become so politicized that being faced with its corporality is a form of confrontation, and a calculated statement all its own. There’s nothing fragile about it.
It’s an idea that has also underscored the work of Patric DiCaprio and Bryn Taubensee of Vaquera. That has driven the signature furious stomping walk of their models and the destroyed pastiche of their clothes, like bullet bra corsets made from the American flag, faded denims cut open like windows to the thighs below, and a wedding dress spliced up the middle: in your face with my flesh.
Just as the extraordinary patchwork concoctions of Kunihiko Morinaga of Anrealage, painstakingly pieced together from thousands of tiny offcuts and pieces of deadstock, called to mind stories of quilting and the homemaker — and then turned that concept literally inside-out, with each garment capable of being worn on one side, and then the other.
For his part, however, Anthony Vaccarello of Saint Laurent offered a different kind of female mythology. One rooted not in royalty or domesticity but the panorama of Paris at night: that cinematic landscape of seduction dotted by glowing monuments shooting up to the sky and populated by a host of femme fatales, slinking, independent and untouchable, into the darkness. One less about exposure than very selective disclosure, and covered in attitude.
Mr. Vaccarello’s touchstone, according to his show notes, was a tubular costume worn by Martha Graham in 1930 as she inspired Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980s, and his expression was the attenuated silhouette, using sheaths of knit jersey, both sheer and opaque, that stretched from neck to ankle to transform the body into the most narrow of vertical lines, extended with the most teetering, weaponized stilettos. Size inclusive this was not.
Over the dresses were tossed sweeping leather and herringbone trench coats with battering-ram shoulders and hems long enough to dust the floor, and among those were sprinkled a few bomber jackets and slouchy silk pajamas for variety. A host of silk jersey column gowns snaked around the torso and over the head like a hood, leaving bare the arms and back and sometimes slices of the stomach.
They were unremittingly chic, but they recalled nothing so much as Grace Jones as May Day in her many hooded looks — the most famous of which was by Azzedine Alaïa — for the 1985 James Bond film “A View to A Kill.”
Still, it is about time somebody rethought the hoodie. That’s a discourse about power dressing all its own.