When the going gets tough, no one can cut an argument for great design with as much substance, conviction and richness of intelligence as Miuccia Prada. Using an unlikely mix of potentially dowdy British tweeds and men’s shirting, bright, lustrous William Morris prints, humble lining silks and deluxe furs and skins, she performed sheer alchemy to create a vision of high chic for hard times.

Prada started by introducing a new cut—a funnel-neck coat with a yoke shoulder and raised, belted waist. Then she eked sexiness out of striped men’s shirts, pinstripe pants and pencil skirts in windowpane suiting fabric by showing them with satin platform slingbacks and a soupçon of the undone. A shirt came with a chopped-off raw sleeve. A black alligator coat was worn over just a shirt and a long, mannish sweater, looking as though the wearer had somehow forgotten her skirt—but fabulous just the same. Accessorized though they were to the last detail, with gloves and the season’s boxy bags hanging from leather and metal chains, the outfits all had an air of elegant off-hand improvisation.

Part of this collection’s genius is that it has continuity and ingenuity: all the hallmarks of Miuccia Prada's talent are on show. Take the way she has of ordaining the peculiar as newly desirable. This season it’s Willam Morris–by–way–of–Liberty flower prints, used as formfitting knee-length dresses, shirts and a deerstalker hat. Or her way of letting the uptight formality out of eveningwear with form-skimming dresses in unpressed lining silks or crinkled georgette, shown with fabric neck pieces (a continuation of Spring’s beaded jewelry). Visually and intellectually, this is a collection that hit the high notes. Post-show, Prada explained her endeavor to be “a desperate search for beauty as we wait for war.” Bad times or no, it's fashion guaranteed to make women desperate to shop.