It's only understandable that if the man who's been at the eye of the whirlwind of negotiations about taking up the reins at Yves Saint Laurent might have been thrown into an emotional spin. As we now know, Alexander McQueen turned down the offer, saying that it was far more important for him to concentrate on his own label. But although his fundamental instincts may be sound, the pain, strain, and self-questioning of recent weeks showed in this collection.

McQueen's intention, he said, was to strip away "all theatrics and focus purely on design." In one way, his declaration is right on: Fashion, hedged about with so much overcomplicated stuff, does feel in want of a good, rigorous cleansing. Perhaps that's why the show looked like a strange kind of rebirthing. His first model, in flesh-pale slippery jersey from top to toe, looked like an embryonic alien being, stepping with horrible vulnerability from a spacecraft onto a kind of landing pad. She led out a parade of similarly nude-colored outfits in tweed, double-faced cashmere, leather, jersey, and chiffon, in which McQueen seemed to be trying to summarize the essence of his design identity. He pared it down to some of his familiar shapes—jumpsuits, molded hourglass coats, nipped-waist suits—all shorn of the elaborate fabrics and embroideries of past seasons. The best of his coats was an ivory swing-skirted shearling, one of the most believably commercial items in the collection.

Yet, throughout there was a sense that the audience was waiting for the moment when this sci-fi-accented show would take off in the usual, thrilling, turbo-charged McQueen manner. A couple of frosted Mongolian-lamb hooded jackets almost did it, but then the mood subsided again into evening, where the long jersey draped dresses looked as if they might have been designed in a mood when McQueen's mind really had been turned toward Saint Laurent.

It was a pity—if only human—that the collection didn't quite live up to expectations at such a crucial time for McQueen. But then again, this is fashion. There's always next season.