You can’t begrudge Valentino a little self-congratulation when it comes to red-carpet dressing. He opened his show with a rapid-cut video, shown on a huge screen, of all the high-wattage women—Sophia Loren, Julia Roberts, Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth Taylor, and Barbra Streisand among them—who turn to him when they need surefire glamour. And, as if to drive the point home, there in the front row sat Gwyneth Paltrow and mom Blythe Danner, sizing up the latest options from the maestro. The generational pairing was appropriate, since the collection confirmed the way in which, after 50 years of designing, Valentino is speaking to a new audience while remaining true to his heritage.

How, exactly, does he do that? For day, among the neat, feminine coats and civilized tweeds, the occasional one now turns up in croc, with herringbone lining and belt details: a chicly modern combination of tough and pretty. But it’s at night that things really take off. Black-lace cocktail dresses—of the kind he’s been doing for a zillion years—come smothered in jet beading and with the lining jettisoned (still proper, but provocative enough to be youthful), and his tiny negligee dresses—confections of the palest satin, lace, and crystal embroidery—are some of the most mouthwatering little nothings seen in Paris this season.

That’s not to mention the full-length, knockout gowns, of which there were a staggering array. He showed dramatic swathed empire-line silks; a simplified black and white, bead-encrusted flamenco dress with a deep kick frill; and a powder-blue draped-to-the-bosom look fit for the ultimate ice maiden. In other words, everything necessary to keep the red-carpet royalty coming back to Valentino for more.