Nicolas Ghesquière decided to show his fall collection in New York rather than his home base of Paris. And given the terror alerts, bloodless economy, looming war and frigid winter the city is enduring, the timing for his broody, sexy presentation couldn’t have been better. Ghesquière held the show in a severely minimalist art gallery (with an audience that included two of Hollywood’s darker starlets, Chloë Sevigny and Asia Argento), the better to focus attention on the intriguing shapes, fabrics and colors.

There aren’t many who play as fearlessly with proportion as Ghesquière, and in this collection he staked out two strong silhouettes: First came slim trapeze looks, like a spare black tunic coat over white leggings and a pretty mint-colored sweater; then he sent out a modern hourglass, made by way of jackets and tops cut with balloon sleeves and often cropped at midtorso. Worn over skintight pants or derrière-hugging minis (including one witty version that looked like a kilt caught in a wind tunnel), it was sleek, tough and cleverly sexy—the kind of uniform a secret agent might wear in Matrix: Reloaded.

The designer’s fabrics, substantial and with surface interest, demanded their own attention: chunky shearling, nubby wool felt, ribbed jersey and slick nylon. Chiffon turned up in a few evanescent pink and white tops, sewn with meandering ruffles and brought down to earth by glossy gray thigh boots. Ghesquière excels at pushing his medium to its limit, as shown in the variations he did on his beloved patchwork pieces. But he’s also a master of the classics who can toss off a perfectly cut black blazer to take its wearer through any crisis in style.