The twin forces who have made fashion turn to ponder the pushed-out, built-up shoulder are Martin Margiela and Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga. What they did last season is still controversial—and advanced—though many others are now clicking into the idea, gradually working toward a forties film noir silhouette. So now he's in the lead, Martin Margiela is canny to keep at it. The Fall collection he showed today might have been subtitled "Shoulders II." This time, the line was way, way out there—50 centimeters, to be precise—and aided, in some cases, by rods on which to hang the vast inverted triangle of the upper body.

This sharp shape was a starting point for a total look. Essentially, it tapered downward to high-waisted narrow skirts or black leg casings that were a strange amalgam of ski pants and long-line girdle. Mad as this sounds, there was a dramatic, graphic elegance in the way Margiela worked the theme through black and white, with contrasting shots of fluorescent pink and lime. The big shoulders didn't always literally make a rod for a woman's back. He moved from squared-off capes through conceptual boleros constructed of strands of looped wool or giant tubes of tulle-covered padding. But then came the luxe part, sans superstructure. There were rabbit-fur jackets with huge cowls, and a couple of glam backless shaggy goat halters that gave a clever twist to the season's ubiquitous chubbies.

Yes, this is avant-garde fashion pushed to its most extreme limits, and many women will be scared to death by it. On the other hand, if the reaction to Margiela's last collection is anything to go by, editors will rush to shoot it, and other designers will quietly absorb its signals as a way to move forward.