Gilles Mendel is known for long, fluttering eveningwear—the stuff of Hollywood red carpets, especially relevant given that awards season coincides with the Pre-Fall collection—but lately he has turned his attention to the shorter, the sportier. Dare one say daywear? There were skirtsuits but, overall, not quite. With zoos' worth of fur, Mendel's "day" is not exactly 9 to 5. But recent seasons have seen him working to balance J. Mendel's traditional extravagant elegance with something more like ease. (It is still, he admits, "close to decadence.")

Spring moved in this direction, but the many themes Mendel pursued made the effort come off a bit confused. For Pre-Fall, things were in better order. There were still disparate strands—a passage of fur-trimmed, double-faced cashmere coats in pop colors had a sixties zing but felt out of place with the lot—but on the whole, the focus on shorter, sharper shapes clarified the intent. If the geometric shifts and biker-style jackets weren't necessarily the most original, you'd be hard-pressed to find them elsewhere in fabrications like these: "cavallino" hand-painted to resemble tweed, leather tufted to suggest bouclé. Furs were herringboned or houndstoothed.

Skeptics will endure—to say nothing of antifur types—but Mendel is riding high, not least because of the recent opening of his new boutique on Madison. It's a showroom as well as a lab for his efforts. "There's no compromise," he said. Doing particularly well, he added, was a room of the most luxurious of his ultra-luxurious wares. "I call it the millionaire room," he said. (A publicist stepped in, Austin Powers-style, to note that, really, it should be the billionaire room.) Future stores are being considered for Russia and Asia. He who laughs last laughs richest.