When John Galliano was traveling south to research his couture collection last summer, young men were rioting in the streets of France. That, at least in part, was one of the resonances that fed into the French Revolutionary, blood- and gore-spattered drama he put on at Christian Dior. Clad in huge red capes, cinched-in rough leather jackets, vast looped-up pannier skirts, laced biker pants, and shroudlike bindings, his models came out with their crucifix-festooned necks stenciled with the date of the revolution: 1789.

"There was a lot of political unrest happening," Galliano said of France's turbulent summer. "I wanted something bolder and toughened up. The beat of what's going on." Still, this was hardly a manifesto for the overthrow of French society—or of Christian Dior—as we know it. During his research, which centered on Marseille and Arles, the designer went back to the corset factory Dior himself used in the 1950's, as well as to the home of Marie-Laure de Noailles (who he was delighted to discover was related to the Marquis de Sade). Down south, he also connected with "the passion of the bullfight," which stirred up his Spanish blood. Somehow, it all came together in typical Galliano fashion: a delirium of perversely merged imagery held together by his signature nipped-waist, skirts-out-to-there silhouette. In the end, he twisted the principle of liberté into something deeply personal: a celebration of creative freedom with lashings of erotic libertinism thrown into the mix (thanks, naturally, go to his boss, Bernard Arnault, for funding the above). In a final display of the epic ego that drives it all, Galliano stormed the stage like a pirate, swishing a rapier.