Raf Simons is not a designer obsessed with the past. He leaves the decade-hopping to his peers, preferring instead to look ahead. And yet his latest Couture collection for Dior—his most completely realized to date, as beautiful as his debut of two years ago, if not as audacious as his continent-spanning collection from last July—found him looking back. Not at one specific era, but rather at many. Simons was curious, the program notes explained, about the way different time periods informed and influenced subsequent ones. And more than that, he said afterward, he found himself thinking about Christian Dior's fascination with the Belle Époque and asking himself, "If I had been [working] at that time, what would be my interest, conceptually or technically or architecturally? What would I be excited about?"

The show was divided into eight groups, hopping not decades but centuries—for example, from the Marie Antoinette-inspired pannier silhouettes of the opening to astronauts' jumpsuits, back to embroidered court jackets and forward again to twenties volumes. Models from each grouping emerged onto the circular set, a launching pad like something out of a sci-fi flick, with curved walls covered in orchids by the thousands. They circulated there to the sounds of Sonic Youth, exposing the clothes from all angles and letting the intricacies and, at other times, the purity of the construction sink in.

Simons' real feat was just how modern it all looked despite its historicism. He achieved that through lightness. You got the sense that the silk jacquard 18th-century dresses were every bit as weightless as the parachute-fabric flight suits. There was relatively little embellishment on those dresses; the sumptuous, shimmery materials and the voluptuous forms were the story. His flapperish dresses, meanwhile, were dripping not in heavy beads but in high-tech resin fringe.

The other thing that keeps Simons out ahead is his assertion that Couture need not be for special occasions. True luxury is spending five or six figures and wearing something not once or twice, but incorporating it into your daily wardrobe. Sweeping, long-line coats (Edwardian) and the familiar bar jacket (1950s), made unfamiliar with exaggerated shawl collars, will prove tempting to clients. Exquisitely detailed court coats and court jackets (in wool, velvet, even astrakhan) were equally believable as everyday wear, paired with classic knits and trousers. If the finale dresses—outwardly simple, though, in fact, rather complex—didn't quite take off, it was only because of the power of what came before.