The front row at Armani Privé made a riveting study. There was Cate Blanchett, in a strict, forties-shouldered black tuxedo skirtsuit. And one along, there was Katie Holmes, in an apple-green bustier gown with something diaphanously sari-like going on at the side. The venue was packed with 600 who had come to Paris to see Giorgio Armani's biggest couture presentation yet, but would any of them be able to drag their eyes away from the celebrity sideshow to attend to the small matter of the fashion that was about to parade in front of them?

As it happens, the clothes did win the tussle for attention, at least for a respectable portion of the 65-look show—and against such starry competition, that's saying something. This was Armani's best couture performance so far, and a clue was in Mrs. Cruise's dress: It was about India. Or, rather, about Armani's chic-ed up take on the subcontinent, the emerging market that has so many designers so excited.

The look might be described as "Maharani of Milan." The show opened with a collarless black pantsuit, a curving steel cutlass with a decorative hilt stabbed through one lapel. That set the tone: a merge of Armani's signature jackets and monotone greige palette with Indian-inflected cuts and bejeweled embellishment. For day, he worked a new sense of ease into Empire jackets with deep ruffles, crafted a twist and curve into knee-length skirts, and caught a sophisticated sense of the trend for tunic and leggings with translations of the traditional kurta. The shoes—cutaway gray pinstripe pumps with big jewels on the toe—also struck a nicely judged east-west balance.

All this, before getting down to the real business at hand: the Academy Award evening pieces for Blanchett and Co.'s perusal. In that department, too, there were outstanding moments, particularly a drop-dead gorgeous one-shouldered silver-embroidered white sheath. If there were an Oscar for the couture gown of the season, that one would be up there with the nominees.