Coincidence is a bitch. Outside the Dior show today, copies of the Herald Tribune were being distributed in a long-planned fashion week wraparound advertising Dior Addict Lipstick. Not the best time or place to be reinforcing the catastrophic career implosion of disgraced and dismissed Dior designer John Galliano. Inside the tent erected in the gardens of the Musée Rodin, the set—a chandeliered salon—was prime Galliano, but its silveriness now looked haunted rather than chic. And when the lights went down, a more-than-expectant hush fell over the huge crowd. (So much for the rumors of boycott.)

But before the march of the models began, Dior CEO Sidney Toledano appeared onstage to make a lengthy speech in French about the values that Christian Dior—both the man and the business he founded—has represented for more than six decades. Toledano referred to the recent egregious flouting of these values without once mentioning Galliano by name, but went on to assert that they would continue to be upheld by "the heart of the House of Dior, which beats unseen... made up of its teams and studios, of its seamstresses and craftsmen."

Overtaken by events, this ready-to-wear show ended up as a swan song, but it was a pale testament to the extraordinary work the ateliers have done for Galliano over the past 14 years. The proper tribute would ideally have been one of the Dior couture shows, where the extravagant drama of the designer's soaring imagination was evenly matched by breathtaking workmanship. Still, there was enough of that symbiosis between creator and atelier to give today's opening outfits some oomph. Karlie Kloss stalked down the catwalk in a huge hat, buckled knee boots, velvet britches, and a sweeping cashmere cloak, over what looked like a leather baby doll. She could have been a female Byron—or a highwaywoman. Either way, a romantic renegade has always been the quintessential Galliano woman.

Colors were rich, textures were lush, and there was a layered louche-ness that amplified the bohemian theme: One black velour coat with brocade sleeves and red fox collar and cuffs was draped over a cashmere waistcoat and a long mousseline blouse, with those knee boots. Like an artist's muse had roused herself from his bed, thrown on a top, a gorgeous coat, some shoes—and left it at that. Galliano has always had a keen ability to provoke such fantasias in his audience. Some of that has clearly rubbed off on his design team. There was plenty of fodder to follow, from a tweedy jacket over faille short shorts to a cashmere princess coat over velvet knickerbockers to a pink python tunic over a fuzzy plaid skirt. Then, ever onward to the point of repetitious overload, especially by the time Merry Widow looks kicked in. Evening dissolved into tiers of sheer pastel chiffon, lace, and tulle with a Directoire bent. It was often wont to do that with John himself, except here there was an inescapable sense that a whole lot of stuff just needed to be got out and got done with.

Quite how you sign off on one of the most extraordinary careers in contemporary fashion without the participation of its prime protagonist is a challenge you'd probably wish on your deadliest business competitor. Dior orchestrated a gracious envoi, with those seamstresses and craftsmen that Toledano eulogized in his speech gathered onstage while the crowd cheered and wept. Whatever happens next, here, at least, they were waving the last wave. The only precedent for this situation is Coco Chanel's postwar denunciation as a Nazi collaboratrice. Her exile from the fashion world lasted nine years.