Marco Zanini was 15 years old when he first read Elsa Schiaparelli's Shocking Life. A future in haute couture instantly beckoned. "She was punk before punk, Pop before Pop," he rhapsodized at a preview the other day. Now that he bears her mantle, his reaction was predictable: "Unbelievable!" And the stellar turnout today for his debut at Schiaparelli—Jean Paul Gaultier, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Elle Macpherson, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Ines de la Fressange, Jean-Paul Goude—suggested his enthusiasm had won over his peers.

It's been sixty years since Elsa herself last showed couture (in the interim, she has shuffled off this mortal coil), but Zanini ensured that it might as well have been yesterday with the lineup he presented. He captured Schiaparelli's sense of color and decoration and—perhaps most important—her sense of humor, and all without resorting to lobsters or shoe hats or anything overtly Surrealist. And even if today the hair, the makeup, and Stephen Jones' headpieces had a touch of the crazies, they all added to a feeling that Zanini had made himself some twenty-first-century Merveilleuses.

"She was a delicate paradox, the epitome of elegance with a certain taste that wasn't very elegant," Zanini said of Schiap. "She was the first to mix high and low." Dressing both the Duchess of Windsor and Mae West, in other words. In his collection, Zanini honored that instinct with outfits as supremely elegant as a silk chiffon skirt and matching blouse (it took twenty people three weeks to achieve the bouilloné effect on the skirt), and as supremely showgirl as a paillette-encrusted brocade bodysuit under a sheer silk chiffon robe de chambre. He insisted he had to restrain himself: "This is the first one; I didn't want to get drunk with it." He was also acutely aware of the looming trap of camp (those damn lobsters!). Nevertheless, Zanini chocked his nineteen looks with vivid prints, sweeping drama, gorgeous embroidery, and a spectacular party trick, in jackets that reversed from sober black mohair to a froth of white ruffle or a feast of feathers. Gripoix complemented the collection with jewelry as special as a Venus flytrap ring and a vine of glittering ivy that crawled up Kirsten Owen's arm.