Matthew Williamson finds himself in the same place as a lot of his peers: challenged to find creative solutions to harshening economic problems. Pre-fall is an increasingly important season for him, partly because it's an appetizer for his Fall show but also because it's become a way for him to edit and sharpen his message. So, even though time is so tight on this particular stretch of the fashion calendar that Williamson's business partner Joseph Velosa has dubbed it "the mean season," pre-fall has actually evolved into a reminder for the designer of why he does what he does—and why he loves doing it. And that can't be a bad thing.

This time round, Williamson had been brooding on the interiors of Russian palaces, a rather more artificial inspiration than his usual references to travel or nature, but it allowed him to indulge a more deluxe world of patterns and textures. Parquet inspired a print on silk crepe; the swirls of marble flooring were blended with winter flowers to create another print for a lace-sleeved gown in jersey. Damask wallpaper was echoed in the weave of a cocktail shift with an extravagantly appliquéd neckline. Williamson's woman has often had something of the wanton wild child about her, but this time he wanted to up the ante to a more sophisticated, decadent level. "Czarist Russia is a romantic idea to me," he said. "Anything goes." But if that observation promised wholesale excess, the reality was more an opulently shaded and decorated version of the dressy little numbers Williamson's fans expect from him—this time with a luxurious parka, quilted and fox-collared, to toss indolently on top.