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Breasts, Breasts, Everywhere

Breasts, Breasts, Everywhere

Enough with the boobs.

That’s all I could think when yet another Saint Laurent model appeared wearing what was essentially a nylon stocking transformed into a dress. Or a pussy bow blouse. Or a pencil skirt. Or a ruched halter — whatever it was, it was skintight and see-through, often draped across the body and always revealing not just nipples galore, but below the waist, briefs cut to the hipbone like a 1980s aerobics leotard. Work it out, baby.

Of the 48 looks teetering out on needle-sharp stilettos in the Saint Laurent show, only 12 didn’t have breasts front and center (and of those 12, three were minidresses with their own built-in garter belts to attach to the stockings below). The pictures can’t even be shown in this family newspaper.

Forget about the practicality of making a pantyhose dress, or the question of who would want to wear it in the first place. At this stage in the 21st century that much transparency seems like the tritest form of misogynistic pretend-fashion provocation. One that is particularly misjudged given the current politics of women’s bodies. They are already being treated like objects, do we really need more objectification?

Maybe at one point, when Yves Saint Laurent was first pushing boundaries and making a sheer blouse back in 1966, so much visible skin was a shocking, subversive thing in public or on a fashion runway. Maybe in the beginning it was empowering: an escape from the prison of old mores and outdated gender rules.

Maybe Anthony Vaccarello, the creative director of Saint Laurent, was harking back to that period (the show space, two large round rooms, was hung with mint green velvet damask curtains, like the salons of the hôtel particulier on Avenue Marceau where Mr. Saint Laurent once held court, and the scent of Opium was piped into the air). Maybe he was, as the show notes suggested, poking fun at propriety. Maybe he was taking the recent trend toward naked dressing to its ultimate end. Maybe it was a subversive way to make everyone actually appreciate clothes. When a trouser suit finally appeared — there were two in the show, slouchy double-breasted numbers — or a giant marabou coat, it was such a relief, they looked fabulous.

Or maybe Mr. Vaccarello was just trying to get a rise out of a population jaded by too much fashion with too few ideas. If so, good impulse, misguided execution.

Transgression demands more nuance than an almost bare breast (own them, seen that). As a result, all that exposure, which mostly had the effect of revealing just how painfully skinny many of the models were, and all those boobs just made for a disconcertingly backward start to the final week of what has been an unsettled fashion season, in which too many designers have defaulted to the banal (look! a loden coat!). Especially combined with the equally backward-facing Dior show, where the designer Maria Grazia Chiuri chose as her starting point a 1967 Miss Dior collection.

Not Miss Dior the perfume, which was named after Catherine Dior, Christian’s younger sister and a member of the French Resistance who spent time in a concentration camp and to whom Christian dedicated his life. Rather, Miss Dior-the-collection: the first attempt to introduce a ready-to-wear line in the house under the then-creative director Marc Bohan. It represented, Ms. Chiuri said in a preview, a new silhouette for a new age and a new customer, one that was looser and more functional than the original New Look silhouette; one more geared toward a life of action as opposed to decoration.

(Further underscoring the action side of things, Ms. Chiuri commissioned an installation by the Indian artist Shakuntala Kulkarni, who creates abstracted armor-like structures in bamboo and photographs the way they transform women into a cross between mythic warriors and angels. Though the nine exoskeletons in the center of the show space, fascinating as they were, mostly just confused things.)

To make the connection even harder to miss, Ms. Chiuri splashed what looked like giant Miss Dior graffiti, but was actually a reproduction of the original logo, all over black, white and beige 1960s-Mod trench coats, A-line skirt suits and jackets. Which were not classic Dior Bar jackets, with their nipped-in-waists and flaring hips — Ms. Chiuri freed herself from that particular tether — but cut with a swingier, looser silhouette. They were cute, as were the more subtle Miss Diors on the buckles of square-toed low-heeled Mary Janes, and embroidered up the seams of stockings like a handwritten scrawl, though even better were the evening looks in metallic flapper fringe, the knit sleeveless maxi dresses, that had nothing obvious to do with Miss Dior at all.

Women want to feel like a walking brand advertisement as much as they want to stroll around flashing their knockers to the world. It’s easy to give lip service to empowerment and liberation, tempting to use it as a marketing hook, but harder to define what it might actually look like — at least today, versus sometime in the last century.

Maybe, hopefully, a designer will come up with a solution. That’s the job, after all. But it sure isn’t this.

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