Protective Cover à la Parisien at Dior and Chanel

And more subtly so at Dior, where the artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri said her sweeping 1940s postwar silhouette — long skirt, small waist, rounded shoulders — realized in 50 shades of gray and nude, and men’s wear fabrics such as tweeds, houndstooth and Prince of Wales check, were inspired by female explorers such as Amelia Earhart, Freya Stark and Louise Boyd. (Also, maybe, Wonder Woman. In her Diana Prince incarnation; she seems to be something of a muse of the season.)

Trousers were cut wide as skirts and paired with wrapped shawl-collared jackets soft as cardigans; coat dresses given an aerodynamic bow at the neck; and skirts seamed to create a waterfall of extravagant pleats — all of it paired with fedoras, flats and the skinniest crocodile belts, or layered over tulle ball gowns and clouds of mousseline.

Slide Show

Christian Dior: Fall 2017

CreditGuillaume Roujas/Nowfashion

The palette was earthen and angsty, save for some bright patchworks; embroidery on jackets and coats mapped, literally, the world, and far-flung continents were picked out in flowers made of feathers. Despite the sheer shirt dresses, the overwhelming impression was of clothes as protective covering.

On one level, of course, that’s what couture is supposed to be: not just frocks that make you stand out at a party, but clothes that make you feel safe. We just tend to forget it in the dazzling lights of bugle beads and paillettes.


Giambattista Valli, couture fall 2017.

Patrick Kovarik/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Examples were the 1960s macramé minidresses, every inch encrusted with embroidered, sequined flowers, and the organza ball gowns cut thigh-high in the front and sweeping into trains at the back that are so beloved of the designer Giambattista Valli. As it happens, Mr. Valli was a recent recipient of a minority investment from Groupe Artémis, the holding company of François Pinault, himself something of a Paris institution, who was happily applauding the show in the courtyard of the Petit Palais.

But as the new Dior exhibition demonstrated, Ms. Chiuri’s restraint (and many of her silhouettes) come straight out of the founder’s original playbook. Indeed, her show notes cited each historic look referenced in her work. While such consistency provides…

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