Even though he's now in the saddle at Hermès—the horsey Parisian luxury house—Jean Paul Gaultier shows no inclination to cry "Whoa, boy!" when it comes to his own couture collection. For fall 2004, he trotted out a stable of cross-cultural riders, with everyone from South American gauchos to the Scarlet Pimpernel getting turns in the ring.

Themes apart, Gaultier's overriding fashion message for the season is: capes. Nearly every outfit had something flamboyantly chic hanging from the shoulders: cloaks, blankets, wraps, stoles, togas, serapes, flings, scarves. They came in fringed suede, tartan, velvet, Mackintosh twill, antiqued metal sequin, shot taffeta, and fur-edged painted silk, and were mostly paired with swashbuckling thigh boots, an extravagant hat, and nothing much in between, save a tiny cowl-neck tunic in some exotic fabric.

But Gaultier's couture is not all high jinks and punning. There were moments of considered strategy, as when the red-haired Lily Cole walked out wearing a YSL-homage midnight-blue silk velvet cape, plum blouse, turquoise satin skirt, and red suede boots. (Since Saint Laurent closed his couture house, many clients—like Catherine Deneuve, seated front row—have transferred their allegiances to Gaultier.) And in a quiet but oh-so-pertinent way, he sent out three thoroughbred full-length gowns—one in plunging black; the second draped as a velvet toga; the third, a Hollywood white silk halter—that were masterworks of couture cut.