The ranks of Parisian couturiers willing to put on extravagant 50-look runway performances are thinning rapidly. Jean Paul Gaultier, usually an enthusiastic showman, is the latest to fall in with the close-up-and-intimate policy that is sweeping haute couture. He divided his guests among curtained cabines and sent the models in one by one, the better to display the details of his samurai-meets-corset-maker collection for spring.

“There are so many things that look like other things. You can’t tell what they are from a distance,” the designer said to explain the presentation. True: the minutiae of materials like fish skin, lizard, and transparent python—and even the magic he can work with plain old black wool—gain wonderment when inspected from six inches. Little dresses and bodysuits, constructed from tiny pieces of reptile and sea creature, are lashed together like Asian armor with ribbons of silk. Piles of barbaric-looking chunky necklaces and bangles finish the look.

His black skirt suit, the jacket cut with asymmetric lapels and worn over a leather bodysuit, spilling a chic bow in front, could well be the definitive sign-off on the power of immaculate tailoring. Gaultier’s best moments, however, come when he loosens the stays a bit, as with a deep-violet velvet dress, lined with chartreuse georgette, that transcended any theme. Never mind the samurai: customers who can afford what may be couture’s last great stand should rush over to JPG tout de suite.