Backstage at Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière talked about his collection, quite simply, as an exploration of "matte and shine, playing with textures to see how they reflect or absorb light. And playing with our house codes." There's nothing remotely simple, however, about the complex, futuristic synthesis of line, cut, and glinting surfaces that played out on his runway. It involved silvered Lurex streaking over skin to cover legs, feet, and hands; asymmetric combinations of drape and structure; bonded jersey pantsuits with A-line tunic tops; tissue-fine metallic crinkle-pleated jackets; and, somewhere in the middle, pale suede pieces that looked as if they might have been extruded from some high-spec industrial machine. The show built to an amazing finale series of dresses cut in iridescent gold, silver, pewter, green, and pink ribbon. As one of the models stepped onto the runway in a sequined sheath, Ghesquière glanced over and remarked, "She looks like a solar panel, no?"

The genius of Balenciaga is Ghesquière's projection of couture techniques into the world of new technology. A crude stab at describing it might be "sci-fi couture," but the truth is his mind-set renders stock fashion vocabulary redundant. Ghesquière works without references or narrative, pushing experimentation with fabric and cut to the nth degree. Cleverer still is the sense of a grounded core: the recognizable, desirable developments of pants (the evolution of his jodhpurs in mackintosh fabric; the sophisticated motocross shapes), and the precious, shiny, chic bags clutched in every hand.