Galliano's aristocrat style foxes fans

WHEN THE announcement was made that John Galliano would show his autumn/winter haute couture collection for the House of Christian Dior at Versailles, international buyers and press knew what to expect. The designer has, after all, been viewed as an example of whimsical over- indulgence.

The image of Versailles, the ostentatious brainchild of Louis XIV and the world's grandest palace, only added to the expectation of extravagant folly. Visions, perhaps, of Marie Antoinette in overblown skirts and powder- puff wig, frolicking in the vast formal gardens like the world's most privileged shepherdess came to mind - but this, of course, was very John Galliano.

However, Galliano, one of the century's great designers and, in his time, a huge innovator, is not that predictable. At last night's show he had banished the rose petals strewn here, there and everywhere at past collections. Neither was there a muscle-bound pouting and posturing Nijinsky-typeAdonis to be seen. Instead, on a stark 100ft-long catwalk, Galliano proved critics wrong by looking to the future with what seemed brutal determination.

He described his collection as "New Generation Dior". It was certainly that. There were times when the moneyed and bejewelled front-row Dior couture clientele looked quite overcome by the vapours.

His black leather trousers, skirts and dresses boasted bondage straps straight out of Vivienne Westwood's punk-seditionaries. A mini sheath dress crafted entirely in black metal Dior Ds was hardly the branding that the traditional Christian Dior customer might be looking out for.

As for the gossamer fine sheath dresses worn with sequinned bustiers and big knickers beneath them... quelle horreur!

"Everything starts with the wardrobe of the English aristocrat who dressed Savile Row", read the show's notes and, indeed, the tailoring, as always, was sublime. It was also viciously deconstructed - torn apart, then twisted around the body in never-ending seams in the long, lean and elegant way that only Galliano knows how to achieve.

Not that Galliano's futuristic heroine was stuck in her ways. She metamorphosed effortlessly from deranged Edwardian urban aristocrat, to blue-blooded and cold-blooded huntress draped in fox furs, plumage and what looked suspiciously like real stuffed animal heads. Yes, Little Bo-peep was there too, if only for a minute and looking rather too sickly sweet to stand a chance with her more rapacious alter-ego.

Despite clumsy moments - a sequence of neon-bright sack dresses looked as if they might have arisen from an over-ambitious student's catwalk - there was a far fresher feel to this collection than there has been of late. This collection marked a return to the early John Galliano.

What the customers of Christian Dior will make of this, only the future will tell.