With so much softness, lightness, and unabashed luxury everywhere this season, it would seem obvious for Valentino to take his collection in that direction, too. After all, what could be more perfect for le jet set? But the designer doesn't seem to feel that way. Instead, this fall, Val's gals are as intent on creating a charged erotic frisson as they are in looking elegant. Think of the work of the late photographer Helmut Newton and you'll get the general idea: predatory women who like to flaunt whatever God did (sexy curves) or didn┐t (serious rocks) give them.

Valentino played up that feeling with references to the divine decadence of Marlene Dietrich in her Blue Angel era. That inspiration was best expressed by the black chiffon evening dresses that closed the show: slim columns, their simplicity complemented by a draped bodice or a back or front sliced to reveal an embroidered or satin bra.

While the designer showed mostly black for evening (and put on the runway only one of his trademark red dresses, a taffeta number appliquéd with flowers) there were welcome flashes of color in his daywear: a reed-thin mauve silk charmeuse dress, a pale pink organza shirt worn with a floor-length ruffled skirt. To ward off a night chill, there were fur boleros that looked like a more substantial version of the evening shrug that has been a recurrent idea on this season's runways. Valentino might have been inspired by a platinum blonde from days gone by, but it's intriguing to think what a more contemporary version—someone like Gwen Stefani, say—might do with one of those dazzling evening dresses right now.