"Pre-collection isn't about an image or a direction. It's about a woman, a desire, a need," Alber Elbaz said as he narrated his Lanvin mini-show in a manner at once thoughtful, amusing, and heartfelt. "What do women want?"

For this inventive designer, it seems there are plenty of answers to that frequently asked question: a simple black A-line shift that reverses to a trompe l'oeil tiered tulle dress, say, or a day trench that, turned inside out, is ruffled and ready for a night on the town, or a gold coat whose sleeves unzip to become a shirtdress. On paper, some of that might sound gimmicky, but the effect of Elbaz's two-in-one ideas was utterly charming and unforced—not to mention incredibly savvy at a time when women are still relearning how to shop.

The designer's other real-world solutions? Bathing suits with matching cover-ups; a versatile cotton metal fabric that can be manipulated (tug the hem of a skirt down for day, hike it up for after dark); luggage and handbags made from python print, not the real thing, so they don't cost a fortune; and a stretch skirtsuit. Sexy and forgiving at the same time? We'll take it.

Elbaz is without a doubt one of the most woman-friendly designers around today. His real trick, though? Marrying need to desire. Take the floor-length halter dress inspired, he said, by his customers in Miami, who think nothing of wearing long during the day to go shopping at the new Lanvin store there. An outfit like that may not be a necessity for the time-squeezed New Yorkers in today's audience, but that didn't stop the audible collective swoon.