Christian Dior:

Nothing says couture like a pair of nearly-naked Japanese Kodo drummers with big red drumsticks. Unless it’s a pair of circus ribbon twirlers in feathered tutus; a comely, ruffled contortionist; a make-bows-not-war soldier in a fatigue jacket done up with ribbons, or a squad of Mongolian hikers decked to trek in platform mukluks and mile-high feathered drum majorette hats just in time for spring. Is John Galliano in the house?

You bet — at his wildest, most outrageous best. In a phenomenal collection for Christian Dior on Monday, Galliano slayed his audience with invention, humor and skill. It was a tour de force of bravado and, more importantly, beauty.

The designer and his team spent 10 days doing research in Russia in November. “I was totally inspired by the magic of St. Petersburg,” he said after the show. What he came away with was not the world of wealthy Cossacks or sober Soviets, but a festival of sensory overload and wonder. The group visited theaters, ballet schools and museums and were granted total access to rich costume archives, finding material in Eskimo, Chinese and Mongolian garb as well as traditional Russian fare.

Galliano then spun it all into a distinctive pastiche with folkloric, military and circus elements. To describe the clothes — well, you can’t. But yes, there was plenty to wear. Okay, maybe not the officer’s jacket with floor-sweeping sleeves or the puffy black-and-white pierrot tunic or the mop-top, multicolor clown wigs. But, as for the lavishly embellished coats, every couture gal needs at least one. Then there were whisper-delicate dresses, one adorned with cherubs in flight, another, with delicate embroidery; extended sweaters; flippy skirts; euphoric color, and, despite the absence of the otherwise ubiquitous PETA protestors, the only springtime fur in Paris.

Each piece shone, a stand-alone jewel. Yet each also played an essential part in a show that packed a solid punch. It indicated that, despite tonight’s watershed event at the Pompidou Center, haute couture is anything but dead. Rather, in the right hands, it is brilliantly alive.