Eric Wilson is InStyle’s Fashion News Director. Sit front row at Fashion Week with him by following him on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays) and Instagram.

The audience at the Maison Margiela show on Friday evening applauded for a full two minutes at the end of a fairly entertaining show, expecting the designer John Galliano to take a bow, as most designers do normally and as he used to relish even more than most. But he did not make an appearance. And in a way, that was the only moment that has not felt entirely scripted in his ongoing rehabilitation since his return to the fashion spotlight.

Galliano, as of course you know, was fired from Dior in 2011 after a disgraceful incident in which he made anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris café, but he has since made considerable progress in his recovery, with the support and forgiveness of a large swath of the fashion industry. Nevertheless, as I was waiting for the show to start and chatting with the person next to me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that his placement at Maison Margiela, where he showed his first couture collection in January and his first ready-to-wear collection on Friday, has all felt a tad calculated, what with the rollout of the red carpet dresses on unimpeachable A-list stars, and the select invitation of sympathetic editors to his shows, and the utter invisibility of Galliano.

Imagine my surprise when I read the program notes for his fall collection. “In evoking a calculated imperfection, the individual emerges.”

I suppose Galliano was talking about the off-hand, vintage-looking designs on his runway, which were shown with a great sense of humor and no small degree of theatricality, with every fifth model or so stalking, moping, or menacing her way down the runway. Many wore neon wigs and eyeliner, carrying what looked like grocery bags but were no doubt the latest Maison Margiela luxury shopping tote. I wouldn’t have been at all shocked if one had been Tilda Swinton. This was all inexplicable fun, and one of the few signs that Galliano has been given a degree of freedom as he reorients himself to the pace and pressures of the fashion game.

Credit: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

The rest was commercial clothes – velvet jackets with tiny flower prints (pictured, above), sheer black dresses that barely kept up with the models wearing them, a vinyl coat or a black suit jacket traced with a ruffle of plastic fabric. It’s perfectly understandable, but it also leaves me cold, and it didn’t nearly convey the spirit of Margiela as much as another collection did the night before, that of Vetements head designer Demna Gvasalia. Vetements was the coolest, and weirdest, fashion show of Paris Fashion Week thus far, yet it was much easier to read, without any interpretation required.

The mood of Paris has changed since the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, so much so that heavily armored security has become a regular presence in the city, and as that relates to the shows, guests are frequently asked to open their bags or walk through metal detectors before each event in a program the French describe as “vigipirate.” It is startling, sometimes, how quickly we become accustomed to these changes. Gvasalia addressed this in clothes that referenced both security uniforms, with “security” printed in splintered letters, and motorcycle clothing rendered oversize and comical, suggesting how easily it is that we give up personal freedom in the name of protection. At the Vetements show, held in the basement of a notorious Paris club known for after-hours depravity, the models barreled through the editors, so fast it was sometimes hard to even register them. You can learn more about the collection in our new designers profile in the upcoming April issue of InStyle.

Two major shows on Friday – Dior and Balenciaga – offered new insights into their designers. Alexander Wang’s collection for Balenciaga was a big step forward, his most modern take on the historic house yet, offering a complete wardrobe from graphic check coats to office-appropriate attire. The standouts were the cocoon coats, some with wide leather belts in the place of the collars, others that closed with what appeared to be a hatpin with a finial in the shape of “CB” for Cristobal Balenciaga (pictured, top). And Wang still knows the value of a glamorous presentation, both harking back to the 1950s style of mincing models and starkly contemporary. Just before his show was to begin, Lady Gaga appeared from backstage, and did a funny catwalk all the way to her seat. BalenciGaga.

Dior’s Raf Simons dipped into the house’s history of animal prints, but you wouldn’t call the results retro. Stripes were abstract on mini-dresses and unencumbered tunic-and-trouser sets, while spots were relegated to vinyl boots. The coolest beasts in this collection were the masculine tweed textures and shiny techno mesh on a few skirts and tops that fit like fish scales (pictured, below).

Credit: Dominique Charriau/WireImage