For all the grandeur of the event—the Orangerie at Versailles at night; the reunion of supermodel notables, from Linda, Naomi, Amber, and Shalom to Gisele on the runway—Dior's 60th anniversary collection had something elegiac about it. John Galliano drew romance and delicacy, rather than his more familiar roaring theatrics, out of a show ostensibly inspired by painters, fashion illustrators, and photographers. In fact, the underlying mood was of respectful homage to two men who devoted their lives to fashion and died too young: Christian Dior himself and Galliano's chief designer, Steven Robinson, who tragically passed away in April while working toward this collection.

A celebration of the achievements of Dior could only open with a redrawn memory of the 1947 New Look, the wasp-waisted, full-skirted silhouette that revolutionized the way women dressed after World War II. Galliano approached it through the artistic landscape that formed Dior's imagination and the great talents who represented his work to the public in magazines. The opening sequence, led by Gisele Bündchen in a black "Bar" suit and Raquel Zimmermann in an ivory circle-skirted dress, caught the black-and-white drama of Irving Penn's photography and the dashed-off pen-and-ink drawings of Eric, Gruau, Bouche, Bérard, and Cocteau. Color came in gradually, first through a hand-tinted 3-D rose whorled center-front on a white bustier dress, then developing into extravagantly realized palettes taken from portraits of women by the Impressionists, Dutch masters, Pre-Raphaelites, and the greats of the Spanish school.

Those color effects were ravishing. Running from the palest pinks through mauve, ice blue, crimson, orange, and emerald, they often appeared to shade from one hue to another in the rich folds of duchesse satin skirts and the tiny-bodiced jackets sitting above them. But if the exquisitely painted ladies made a wondrous display of the arts of the Dior atelier, there was another insistent subtheme rising through the show that put Galliano's personal stamp on the collection he has been orchestrating for ten years. For those who know his Spanish background, the clue was in the flamenco music and the passage of silhouettes drawn from Goya and Zurbarán, as if he had reached back to his roots for courage, as well as technical inspiration. At the end, when he came out costumed like a fight-hardened matador strolling the ring, it seemed less like his usual jokey posturing than an emotional statement.