Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / ImaxTree

There are only two questions anyone is asking Paris couturiers this season: "What are your inspirations?" followed swiftly by, "And what do you think about the recession?" John Galliano's answers were "Flemish painters and Monsieur Dior," and to the point, "There's a credit crunch, not a creative crunch. Of course, everyone is being more careful with their discretionary purchases. I am. But it's our job to make people dream, and to provide the value in quality, cut, and imagination."

He'd cross-referenced the soft blues and golds of Vermeer and the elaborate lace collars and sleeves of Van Dyck with typically Galliano-esque hyper-exaggerations of Dior's tight-waisted, full-skirted fifties shapes. As a starting point, it evoked some of the romantic femininity of Dior's silhouette, but with surface ruffles and bouncing crinolined hemlines that went way beyond any sense of postwar austerity. As for the seventeenth-century Dutch elements, there were cross-laced corseted backs and cartridge-paper scrolls standing out on hips, and, as things progressed, tulip prints and blue-and-white Delftware embroideries peeking from the underskirts. The finale dress, in a gorgeous deep burnt red, had the stately dignity of an historical movie costume—not so much Girl With a Pearl Earring as Rembrandt's Jewish Bride ( OK, that's yet to be made, but the color's exact).

Oddly, though, the clothes became lovelier when the collection didn't stick so literally to the Old Masters—either painterly ones, or the founder of the house. When Galliano escaped the sweet Vermeer palette and moved into ivory, as he did with a slim dress implanted with raw-edged georgette rosettes and embroidered with silver leaves, or with an ingenue off-the-shoulder fifties dance dress banded with black bows, it all seemed simpler, fresher, less stilted. And more like the kind of thing that will actually keep Dior clients dreaming, and, hopefully, spending. By Sarah Mower www.style.com