Valentino's Soft Power, Marie Antoinette-Meets-Madonna at Thom Browne

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Valentino

Powerful women played two different ways.

Designers compete so fiercely for the red carpet and on Hollywood’s biggest night, the right pairing can be a make or break moment for both starlet and brand. And yet the fashion crowd in Paris seemed almost oblivious to the fact that the Oscars would be on — “When? Tonight?” Fashion and Hollywood, though so completely intertwined, are sometimes worlds apart. Or maybe it was just the jet lag.

Pierpaolo Piccioli has been toying with the idea of grace in his past few collections for Valentino, and here he explored soft power, a diplomatic term so lost on our current leadership. “Grace is authority,” he wrote in the show notes. “She finds kindness in the tone of expression.”

Maybe Piccioli was looking to those wonder years when the house dressed Jackie Kennedy (and later Onassis — the house designed her wedding dress), who wore asymmetrical caftans similar to many he showed here in greens, teal and white with scalloped hems. He also showed headscarves, more of Kennedy’s 1970s vibe, and played with bright bold colors mixing fuschia with burgundy and tan, or forest with mint and teal — combos a mere mortal might find hard to pull off. He also stayed on-trend with the skirt-over-trousers look and added new pleated jacket shapes.

Florals in oversized pansy patterns looked fresh and light on chiffon gowns, but felt slightly heavy-handed on enveloping Little Red Riding Hood capes. It was much bolder than his sublime couture collection, but should still be a hit on the red carpet, even if the fashion set isn’t paying attention until the morning after.

How could Thom Browne possibly top last season’s runway finale unicorn? Perhaps with an opening piece of performance art featuring models dressed as modern-day Marie Antoinettes, with the wide pannier skirts of the era reinterpreted as short trousers topped with trench coats.

The designer known for tailoring played with the female form here, with exaggerated silhouettes contorting the hips, bust and waist and some Rei Kawakubo-style lumps and bumps for good measure. It was all in shades of gray, with many floral embellishments and a lot of pearl beading, shaped and molded like clay. Models moved ever so slowly down the runway to Madonna’s "Vogue" before striking a pose on elevated platforms.

And then — record scratch — Baha Men’s "Who Let the Dogs Out" came on, eliciting giggles from the audience. Browne did let the dogs out, a sled pack of human men in oversized canine heads pulling a model down the catwalk.

With his fanciful collections unique in a world currently dominated by sportswear, Browne just might be the unicorn himself.