All the talk this season is about the rivalry heating up between the new guys at Dior and YSL, Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane. But don't count Nicolas Ghesquière out. This is a man who, if he didn't invent the heritage brand reinvention, has certainly mastered the art. And his fantastic new Balenciaga collection was a case study in how he's done it season in and season out for the last decade, by putting an utterly modern gloss on intense study of the house's archives.

Skin was the big news here, and with it more than a whiff of sex. Sometimes a Balenciaga show can be head-scratchingly tough to parse; this one was thrilling in the way it just left you hot. Beforehand, Ghesquière said, "It's the most sensual collection I've ever done," then proceeded to rattle off a string of references that prove it was every inch as thoroughly researched as his more conceptual outings: the mythology of antiquity, stiff ruffles from a Cristobal dress circa 1968, a nymph and faun window display Janine Janet made for the store's windows in '57. The fabrics were as bleeding edge as ever, too: tweeds that weren't tweeds but dense embroideries, delicate lace fused to molded synthetics, and T-shirt knits dipped in glue for stiffness.

Still, what gripped you was the cut—the way Ghesquière merged things that were quite graphic with movement. He set the provocative tone with the first model's midriff-baring molded bra and high-waisted pants. And from there, he came out swinging, slitting long black skirts almost to the hipbone and edging them with deep ruffles, the undersides of which were white. The ruffles nearly pulsed as the models strutted down the narrow aisles, in sharp contrast to the crisp cropped cape tops and T-shirts. Asymmetric, almost togalike skirts, so abbreviated they required shorts underneath, pushed the leggy theme further, and even Ghesquière's sensible pantsuits (more office-appropriate than anything in last season's office collection, ironically) were paired with those daring bra tops.

As the show continued, Ghesquiere's preoccupations shifted from the macro to the micro. To close, he sent out a series of little dresses in coated guipure lace that coded sweet as much as sexy. They had his front-row guest Kristen Stewart's name written all over them.

Simons debuts his Dior ready-to-wear tomorrow and Slimane his for Saint Laurent next week. What Ghesquière did today was a reminder to us all that Paris fashion isn't a two-man game.