Sober, pared-down minimalism? Well, somebody has to kick against it, and there's no more likely a candidate to keep hot and sexy alive than Christophe Decarnin. This season, he's gone Baroque 'n' roll, with a Balmain outing pitched somewhere between Prince's Purple Rain pomp and Louis XIV at Versailles. Gold, brocade, frock coats, Louis-heeled ribbon-laced boots, sequin and lamé dresses galore: Decarnin went for it.

Clever move, on lots of levels. For one thing, shifting Balmain away from the distressed MASH-militaria of summer to a classier, dressier theme puts this notoriously expensive collection on a path where the value of the original can be clearly distinguished from the cheap knockoff. This show's highly elaborate, high-collared seventeenth-century cutaway coats and gilded jeans did that. From a cutting-expertise point of view, so did Decarnin's seventies/nineties tailored pantsuits, which showcased the return of the leg-lengthening, over-shoe flared pant. The idea, the designer said, came to him while looking at a seventies photo of a woman "in an impeccable Balmain couture menswear pantsuit," but the spirit was closer to the Tom Ford for Gucci look that is rising as part of the nineties redux theme of the season.

Still, those gold-buttoned pinstripes (albeit with a gold Lurex stripe, in one case) were the closest this collection's ever likely to come to workwear. Really, what the Balmain woman's hooked on is the competitive evening opportunity to flash as much leg and bosom as possible. She'll be thrilled to see there's no wavering in that department. Decarnin's short and tight paillette-smothered dresses kept the faith with the big-shouldered silhouette he's made a signature for several seasons—actually, one too many. A less obvious choice (if that's not a contradiction, in this context) would be the other Balmain mainstay: the long-in-back, short-in-front lamé gown, which still puts everything satisfactorily on display, while registering winter's play on length.