If the invitation meant anything, sheathed as it was in black fishnets, we were in for a bit of kink at Jean Paul Gaultier. After an inordinately long wait, complete with a bit of police intrigue thanks to fur protesters outside, the curtains parted to reveal Gaultier's girls dressed in his-and-hers outfits. For the hims, there were three-piece suits, and for the hers, high-necked floaty chiffon numbers, one in a dollar-bill print.

Gaultier can take a theme and work it like nobody's business. There wasn't one look that didn't get the S&M treatment, whether subtle or otherwise. There were fishnet insets on the thighs of some little black dresses; others came with big X's implanted on the bodice; and fur coats were encased in vests of cutout black leather. All this and masks by the dozen. The house-signature trenches this season came with backs or storm flaps laser-cut in the familiar stocking-grid pattern, too, but it was hard to imagine customers going for them. Not in this economy, and not when there are so many perfectly respectable alternatives out there.

Toward the end of the show, Coco Rocha, a house favorite, got into a knock-down, drag-out catfight with another model that ended only after a real-life dominatrix carrying a whip intervened. After the crowd got over its disbelief, it broke into wild laughter and applause. It was a bit of fashion theater that made everybody forget about the R-word for a while. And that's an achievement in itself these days.