The visual pun and the trompe l'oeil sartorial quip have basically been owned by Jean Paul Gaultier for 20 years, so it's no surprise to see him referencing Schiaparelli, Dalí, and Cocteau in this surrealist-tinted season. So unsurprising, in fact, that a bride with a candelabra on her head, a redingote sleeve sprouting a fully feathered cockerel, and a suit with a cloth fox stole implanted in its neckline seemed not madly disturbing, but almost normal.
The truth is, Gaultier's habitual cheekiness is kept so well in check now, his collections give off a sly chic rather than shock. This latest outing was essentially an exercise in running through his classic to-do list: the trench, the trouser suit, the bomber, the L.B.D., and, of course, the corset dress he's made his own. The built-in jokes tended to be visible only from the side or the rear of the garment: Slender velvet gowns came with sheer panels in the flanks; a puffy-sleeved fur jacket, with an organza back. A trenchcoat dress, meanwhile, was cleverly veiled with a trailing silk scarf that seemed to flutter away into a puff of smoke. All very sane and wearable in polite society.
Gaultier seems to have reconciled himself to the fact that these days, even the elite are in no mood to spend money on something that might risk ridicule. For those with fond memories of his cheerful ribbing of the bourgeoisie, that's a pity. But he did allow himself one veiled dig at his rich-and-thin target market: A little black dress, plain in front, turned to show a scooped-out back with a spine and ribs recreated in strips of organza. In the program notes, it was called "Wallis."