When the good times roll, hemlines go up. If you believe in fashion folklore, the forecast from the Paris catwalks is that life is about to get better.
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the former “first lady” of France, wore a micro mini dress embellished with pearls in a supersized show this week with an audience of 6,000 to celebrate Olivier Rousteing’s 10th anniversary as Balmain designer. Saint Laurent – a house that stages its catwalks under the sundown light show of the Eiffel Tower, lest anyone be in doubt about which brand best defines after-dark Paris glamour – dressed models in blazers that grazed the upper thigh, worn as short dresses with tights and heels.
The iconic house of Alaïa, back on the catwalk under the direction of the Belgian designer Pieter Mulier four years after the death of its founder, Azzedine Alaïa, has revived the flippy-hem mid-thigh skirts that the house is famous for – teamed with hoodies, this time around. And on the riverside terrace of Le Tout-Paris, the city’s latest see-and-be-seen restaurant atop the reopened La Samaritaine department store, micro hemlines outnumber midi skirts as diners graze on oysters and sole meunière.
In the language of fashion, the mini is code for confidence and optimism. Mary Quant, credited with inventing the miniskirt in the 1960s, later remarked that “when I look back at the clothes I designed then, it’s fairly clear that they signalled great high spirits … they celebrated youth and life and tremendous opportunity.” Interviewed by Vogue in 1995, she reminisced that her miniskirts “had a kind of ‘look at me’ quality. They said: ‘life is great’”.
The upbeat energy of a mini is a talisman of the belief that the worst of the pandemic is over. The global fashion shopping platform Lyst reports that searches for “miniskirt” are up 76% quarter on quarter. “It’s clear that fashion lovers want to feel the joy of dressing up again,” says Lyst’s spokesperson, Morgane Le Caer. “At Saint Laurent, Miu Miu and LaQuan Smith, micro skirts have been the driving force behind the rise of the party-dressing aesthetic which has been inspiring shoppers to fill their post-pandemic wardrobes with minidresses and high slits.”
A cultural shift toward a more inclusive definition of beauty means the miniskirt is no longer the preserve of the young and slender. Wearers in the Balmain show included the actor Milla Jovovich, 45, and the model Naomi Campbell, 51, as well as 53-year-old Bruni-Sarkozy. Ottolinger, a Berlin-based female design duo showing as part of Paris fashion week, showed their athleisure-meets-underwear minidresses, wrapped and twisted into a lattice of skin against fabric, on a range of body shapes. Belatedly, catwalks are beginning to catch up with the rest of the world in celebrating diversity: it was noticeable that at Balmain, the stadium-sized crowd roared louder for the plus-size models Precious Lee and Alva Claire than they did for their sample-size catwalk colleagues. The Harrods buying team described the message of the Balmain show as being one of “power, sensuality … and confidence for all”.
The miniskirt speaks of nostalgia for the carefree optimism of simpler pre-pandemic, pre-climate-emergency times. The clean, boxy lines of the minis that dominate this season’s catwalks connect the look directly to the bouncy elan of the early 1960s. The acid-bright minis at Dior this week were a direct homage to a 1961 collection for the house by Marc Bohan. The miniskirt is central to the origin story of Courrèges, which burst on to the Paris scene in 1961 with little white dresses and go-go boots. The label is now designed by Nicolas Di Felice, who had vintage minis by André Courrèges alongside photographs of modern teenagers dressed up to party at music festivals on his moodboard when he designed this week’s show, which featured graphic diagonal-striped A-line minis.
The skirt suit, having skipped almost an entire generation since it was last in vogue in the 1990s, is also coming back strong – and this time around, the skirt is smaller than the jacket. Olivia Rodrigo’s vintage Chanel skirt suit, worn by the pop star to attend a meeting at the White House in support of a vaccination drive, is part of a resurgence of miniskirt suits at some of the hottest fashion houses in Paris. Schiaparelli, whose clothes have been seen on Lady Gaga at Joe Biden’s inauguration, on Bella Hadid at the Cannes festival red carpet and on Cardi B on this week’s front rows, has two monochrome miniskirt suits in its current collection, while the Lanvin resort show held in Paris in June featured Clueless-adjacent pastel skirt suits with matching handbags.