Like so many other shows, Balenciaga opened with a fur-trimmed felted wool coat. But as the narrow, boxy, chrome-buckled shapes marched in, Nicolas Ghesquière pulled his collection leagues ahead of the season's fixations with "sixties" and "military." A collarless black leather coat with flattened epaulets; slender cuffed boot legs; tailored denim pantsuits with beaver collars; a tight-waist military greatcoat with quilted lapels: Within seconds, it was clear these had nothing to do with routine retro.

"It's a bit sixties, but tough too, with the black leather," the designer said. "A little Françoise Hardy and Mia Farrow; but I never like to say the reference too much." Right. His talent is for cutting straight to the point of what contemporary women want: sharply honed suits and coats that throw off a force field of sexy Parisian froideur. Ghesquière is beaming that controlled creativity into evening, too, making it less of a testing ground for his works in progress. He's retrieved materials like gazar and organdy from the Balenciaga archive, crafting their springy volumes into trapeze dresses with stiffly belled "flying saucer" hemlines (the Mia Farrow moment).

What held it all together was the synthesis of vintage couture and Ghesquière's signature sci-fi obsession. Both elements were embodied in a belted navy jacket with pockets on the sleeves and breast: It turned out to be a reworking of the uniform Cristobal Balenciaga designed for Air France in 1968, but also reflected Ghesquière's personal fascination with the space age. Fusing past and present, he is stamping a unique brand identity on Balenciaga. Not to mention demonstrating the vast distance between a true designer and those who merely hitch their wagons to a trend.