When guests filed into the Grand Palais, they were greeted by the sight of a giant monument to the Chanel jacket, apparently cast in concrete. The message? The immutability of the brand—perhaps not a bad statement in a week when the search for rock-solid future investments is, to put it mildly, playing on people's minds.

In Karl Lagerfeld's hands, the Chanel couture jacket is an infinitely malleable treasure, always current yet timelessly valuable. This collection reiterated that magical strength to the max, with lyrical plays on the little tweed classic. It was cut in neat shapes, as riding jackets, in puffy-sleeved romantic satin, or as coat-dresses with angled hems, and often fastened with huge bejeweled brooches (a strong trend in Paris). But Lagerfeld also raised questions about the end uses of couture now. By sending out each girl in a pair of ballet flats, hair decorated with ingenue tiaralike Alice bands, and keeping the lengths resolutely short, he pitched the Chanel image toward lightness, freshness, and the young customer he sees emerging in new markets.

Partly inspired by the spiraling forms and delicate colors of shells, the skirts and dresses came draped, twisted, and inserted with edgings of feather and flashes of metallic embellishment. Together, they built toward some breathtaking moments: a fondant-pink suit veiled in cream tulle, a raw-edged midnight-blue chiffon cocktail dress, a black bustier dress with gold glinting from the inside of its looped-up skirts, a creamy tiered dress made entirely from plumes. All these pristine examples of technique and imagination (and there were many more) combined to lift the audience to that special place of "How did they do that?" wonderment Chanel alone can provide. The only letdown? Something in the performance. It's not necessarily a Chanel-specific problem, but today's very young, thin, unformed models lack the personality needed to bring the joy of couture fully to life.