Raf Simons was always going to bring a new sensibility to couture, but just how new was made dazzlingly clear with his show for Christian Dior today. Freedom was the word he came back to again and again, just as he did the other night when he was talking about his own men's collection. Freedom is an idea that generates a lot of lip service, but in Simons' case, to see a genuinely free thinker applying himself to a métier as bound by tradition as couture was thrilling. "It's difficult for a designer to give up control, because you have a specific idea of what you want to do," he explained after the show. "But it's so much more satisfying to give freedom to people and see what happens." Simons must have been satisfied by the results of the freedom he gave lens legends Patrick Demarchelier, Terry Richardson, Paolo Roversi, and Willy Vanderperre to interpret his collection. They each photographed the models in the morning, and their efforts provided a massive backdrop to the show, runway and screens cross-pollinating in a constantly shifting digital tapestry.

The freedom Simons really meant was the freedom to choose clothes and to choose how to wear them. It works best if there is a lot to choose from in the first place. The variety was something that leapt off the catwalk today. Haute couture is so closely identified with Paris that Simons' focus on what Dior meant as part of a global fashion culture was a bold departure. That's exactly how the clothes appeared: a different kind of dynamic in couture. Europe shared catwalk space with the Americas, Asia, and Africa: A revamped Bar jacket was followed by a sporty navy blouson; a strapless dress in tiers of spacey shibori (the Japanese process that produces that peculiar spiky fabric) preceded another strapless number vibrantly banded in shiny tribal colors. Dior himself was something of an internationalist (each collection, Simons reproduces two dresses by the old master as an homage), so it would have made sense to him. It should be said that there were some today who saw chaos in need of an edit. They missed the point: The mix was everything.

But what is haute couture without a client? From the start of his stint at Dior, Simons has been fascinated by the clients. They were almost a new species to him. And it wasn't just contemporary clients he studied. He's also been engaged by legendary Dior dressers of the past, like Millicent Rogers. "She brought a strong American attitude, almost cowboylike." Millicent's kerchiefs were a recurrent motif in the collection. Actually, the throat action was one way to pin down exactly where you were in Raf's world: a Masai neckpiece, a Parisienne wrap, a Shinto scarf. Geography helped drive today's show. The show notes mentioned flags, colorful, optimistic emblems of national identity. The palette, the blocking, the banding and striping captured all that.

The most remarkable thing in the collection may have been Simons' insistence on the normality of it all. We've said it before, we'll say it again: He is a true outsider in this industry, infatuated with the secret codes but sufficiently detached that he can create new codes all his own. "If we don't adapt to what women in society are now about, couture might disappear," Simons noted with typical Belgian logic. So what do we say? All hail the new couture.