Imagine a stately parade of Austro-Hungarian fin-de-siècle princesses, competing with one another for precedence in outrageously ornate corseted gowns, their crowns slightly askew. Tottering under the weight of pounds of elaborate fabric, skirt flounces the width of the runway, bank vaults of jewelry, and 6-inch platforms, Christian Dior's models pulled off a spectacle that held the audience breathless in case someone fell. So vast and encased were the frocks that at one point, Karolina Kurkova actually got stuck in the exit and had to be manhandled off.

"I went on a research trip to Vienna, and then got to looking at Egon Schiele, and Empress Sisi, and Russia!" was John Galliano's explanation. Strangely, in spite of the mind-blowing succession of hobbled, hourglass silhouettes, blown up with massive outcrops of Edwardian swags and drapes and gigantic fur-trimmed opera coats, this was a pared-down Dior Couture in several senses. Galliano ditched the Leigh Bowery/kabuki makeup in favor of powdered faces, and the dresses, for all their rich embroidery, crystal chunks, and hand-painted cherubs and birds, gave a new sense of the body beneath.

In that way, it was easier to make the imaginative leap from runway to real event (perhaps one of those royal weddings that have enthralled Europe this summer?) than was usual in previous Dior Couture extravaganzas. This show also made a heady, sensuous display of color—brick red, emerald, celadon, boie de rose, and more—and an opulent celebration of couture-crafted textures, often enhanced to look as if the girls were actually wearing the gilded upholstery and painted ceilings of an imperial palace. On the other hand, it was also essentially a show of one queenly message, repeated 28 times. And that, for Galliano, displayed an odd lack of variety.