In a Milan season that has seen even the most unlikely fashion houses embrace the concept of eccentricity, via quirky layering and madcap accessorizing, Burberry's Christopher Bailey was no exception. "Very thirties-inspired," said Bailey of his charming show, more ironically ladylike and grown-up than his previous offerings—"a little bit Bloomsbury, but with a light spirit." Of course, at this storied British company founded by Thomas Burberry in 1856 (and famed for the weatherproof clothes that kept the empire builders dry), Bailey has more claim than most to channel the eclecticism of his generation's It girls—who include the label¿s signature models, Kate Moss and Stella Tennant. (Stella was walking this season¿s runway.)

That thirties touch meant lingerie-light washed silky dresses in period colors including plum, teal, old rose, bottle green, and slate, and shapely coats with a military edge. And if the fluttering crepe scarves (some in a Schiaparelli-esque glove print), diaphanous cardigans, and swimsuit-backed frocks were surprising for a winter collection, the Burberry girl can keep warm with knitted hats and gloves in bright color accents. The retro palette extended to the hose, which was worn with thick-heeled 1940s lizard court shoes trimmed with crisp little bows.

But Bailey wasn't just thinking about dressing stiff-upper-lipped heroines like Celia Johnson in the weepy 1945 classic Brief Encounter. To a soundtrack of Status Quo, Elvis Costello, and the Communards, the designer leavened the nostalgia with a series of modern twists. As in seasons past, he played in subtle ways with the house's iconic trench coat—adding epaulets and knotted-leather buttons to skinny corduroy jackets, for instance, or veiling his looks with translucent plastic pieces like an electric-blue Mackintosh and a dramatic scarlet cape. Equally strong were the liquid silver and gold lamé fabrics used for skimpy, make-do-and-mend frocks, and a tiered coat that owed a debt to influential seventies London designers Ossie Clark, Jean Muir, and Bill Gibb—now enjoying a posthumous renaissance.