John Galliano produced an absolute dream collection at Christian Dior couture for spring—a dream that recaptured all the romantic, gasp-inducing poetry he used to infuse into his shows and that delivered everything, from surpassing technique to a fresh proportion, that sends a fashion audience into a state of bliss. Gone were the flashing lights, ear-splitting music, and vertiginous runway. Gone, the stilted, masklike makeup, the outrageous costumes paraded on limb-threatening footwear. At last, Galliano has had the change of heart for which his critics have been praying. "In my quest to make a corporate image for Dior, I had become a bit predictable," he said. "So I wanted to get off the podium, to be more exclusive and less MTV."

So instead of the runway, there was a set that recalled Andy Warhol's Factory with a stack of TV monitors, a live band channeling the Velvet Underground and Marianne Faithfull, and the audience sitting in a bunch of old chairs scattered on moldy rugs. If the conceit—Edie Sedgwick meets the Empress Josephine—sounds no less nutty than the standard Galliano fantasy, this time the result was serenely grounded in beautiful clothing. Only Galliano could move from Edie's black leotards and flat crocodile knee boots through striped paillette minidresses, peacoats, and mod caps to culminate—without a single stumble—in russet Empire-line velvet and ethereal Directoire ivory organza.

But this was no literal historical recreation. The combination of flat pointed knee boots and raised-waist dresses amounts to a whole new proposition in silhouette and style. Add in the throwaway richness of the fabrics and colors—the threadbare red damasks and velvet, turned into sumptuous, puffy dresses and worn with Cavalier hats, or the delicately sumptuous embroideries on Napoleonic coats and Josephine gowns—and this is a collection with the power to reverberate throughout fashion for seasons to come.