Extravagant, escapist and extremely expensive

As the recession bites into even the biggest budgets, John Galliano revisits Dior's heritage for post-War glamour. Carola Long reports

Paris Couture Week kicked off yesterday with a seductive Christian Dior collection that revisited the house's past while looking to the future.

Couture's place in the 21st century is constantly under debate and sometimes threat, and never more so than during a recession. However, Dior designer John Galliano showed that, aesthetically at least, this most extravagant, escapist and extremely expensive form of fashion – where dresses sell for more than £20,000 a piece – certainly has its place in the modern world. The British designer took his inspiration for the autumn/winter 2009-10 show from photographs of the label's founder surrounded by his favourite models in the dressing room of the salon before a show.

Accordingly, flashes of 1950s-style underwear, seamed stockings and the visible corsetry on many dresses evoked the deshabille atmosphere behind the scenes at the salon-style presentations once held by Dior. As Galliano said after the show: "I like a bit of ooh-la-la."

As usual, the clothes took classic Dior silhouettes such as jackets with nipped waists and full skirts as their starting point. However, Galliano's penchant for historical flourishes had been supplanted by seductive details such as corset lacing and bra bodices that promised to transform well-heeled customers into the most sophisticated – and high-maintenance – of femme fatales.

Thus a lavender mohair swing jacket was teamed with stockings and nude-coloured frilly knickers, while a fuschia dress with a meringue-shaped skirt had an underwear-style corseted bodice. In addition to saucy sheer silks, and even a powder pink ball dress with a shirt cheekily parted like a pair of curtains at the front and back, there were more modest skirt suits in raspberry, lemon and poppy red boucle and wool crepe.

Hats are always a high point of a Dior show and this time they took the form of squishy turbans, some with veils, huge feathered confections and giant scrolled bows.