Just asking: which contemporary designer researched his latest collection while floating half-a-mile high in a hot-air balloon? The answer, of course, is John Galliano, whose Dior couture show was inspired by an aerial tour of Egypt that included the Valley of the Kings, Cairo, Aswan, and Luxor. The result was a gilded fantasia that used every treasure available to the couture ateliers—gold leaf, lapis lazuli–hued snake, silver lamé, coral beading—to reference everything from Nefertiti and King Tut to hieroglyphs and tomb paintings.

Beginning with Erin O’Connor, resplendent in a gold outfit with massively overblown cuffs, painted face, and a huge empress headdress, Galliano worked what he called “the sphinx line: elongated, tight, attenuated, but crossed with the elegance of Avedon and Penn.” His suits were as fitted as sarcophagi. Peplum jackets and long, narrow skirts encased the body from neck to floor in sumptuous metallics, as the models walked like Dior Egyptians—tiny, hobbled steps, hips thrust dramatically forward. Monumental, crystal-encrusted jewelry was fashioned in the shape of scarabs and eagles.

Now a Galliano girl loves nothing more than an excuse to get down to her glamorous underwear, which, when you’re a chic mummy, means a lovely winding of bandages. That is the curious provenance of one of the show’s prettiest dresses, done in lashed-around strips of white chiffon and studded with crystal. From there the designer loosened up the queenly parade, releasing the skirts into volumes that vaguely recall Christian Dior’s original New Look. Judging by the awed reactions of such audience members as Sarah Jessica Parker and Gwen Stefani, the collection will prove a trove of delights into which contemporary Cleopatras will be more than happy to dig.