You know you're in Paris when the models smoke not only backstage, they're encouraged to do it on the runway, too. At Jean Paul Gaultier's spring show, the runway was clouded by smoke from the clove cigarettes the models brandished with all the élan of your average nicotine addict. It wasn't particularly surprising; Gaultier has never shied from provocative. But that was as rebellious as he got: The butt, as it were, stopped here. What Gaultier did do was present one of his best collections of recent times, rich in wonderfully sharp, sexy tailoring and the kind of wit and whimsy he has made his own.

Essentially, this was a culture clash, with those recognizably Gaultier elements—nip-waisted jackets, trenchcoats, narrow pencil skirts—thrown over or under flamenco-refrained ruffled and tiered skirts and dresses that swept the floor. (In a season of many tiered skirts, Gaultier has done some of the best.) What made it all so appealing was its polish; it was as if Gaultier had finally managed to effortlessly integrate his haute couture work (not to mention this fall's debut Hermès collection) into his eponymous label. That showed through in some of the more straightforward moments, such as the masterly color combination of a tangerine blazer over an emerald blouse and a pink pencil skirt, or the expert cut of a brown leather bomber jacket, which was pulled tight against the body, and then fell into folds down the front.