"I wanted something austere," said Nicolas Ghesquière, "but with a bit of Spanish drama. It's quite cinematographic, an idea of film noir, like Simone Signoret in Les Diaboliques—but it's really me exploring the DNA of the house, with my sci-fi things going on with the plastics and latex." The result: an extraordinary synthesis of rigorous line and shiny, high-tech surfaces illuminated at necks and wrists by the sparkling opulence of traditional jewelry. A different parure of necklace and bracelets adorned every outfit—34 uniquely breathtaking configurations of crystal, faux gems, and pearls, some of them archive copies, others new.

The genius of Ghesquière's Balenciaga is that he can extrude something so smoothly modern from so many layered references. It hit from the opening looks: molded black dresses with scrolled peplums, slit skirts, and armband sleeves—fifties cocktail catapulted into a fierce kind of twenty-first-century chic. (NB: Cristobal Balenciaga was born in the Basque country, hence the "Spanish" drama.) The clever part is the way Ghesquière melds his own vision—his taste for techno surfaces—with Balenciaga's heritage, often in the same garment—say, the car-shiny dresses cut with a swag back, or the sliced zones of shantung and plastic that are fused into a sack dress. There was much more beyond this, too: on the one hand, crazily elaborate "couture" latex, formed into hand-painted and embossed samurai biker jackets and dresses inspired by chinoiserie screens, and on the other, a few perfectly resolved urban equations for a new kind of evening dressing. The best: the skinny gray pants and Goya-inspired draped velvet and taffeta tops—superb.