Tom Ford left the stage with a vividly memorable performance—polished, mature, and perfectly pitched. And that was just the clothes. As for the man, and the way he acquitted himself at a crucial hour, precisely the same description applies. The central player in the most seismic fashion drama of recent memory bowed out smiling, fielding kisses and congratulations with affectionate thanks and a dash of Texan good humor. Tearing an overwrought woman off the shoulder of his red velvet smoking jacket, he said, "Oh, come on. I'm just takin' a break, that's all!"

This is a man (an actor by first calling, after all) who knows how to play an emotional scene light. Not that it can't have been nerve-wracking, to say the least, to design the collection that, for better or worse, will go down as his last big statement at Yves Saint Laurent. Which chapter of YSL history to call up for his grand finale? As it turned out, he chose the unexpected: the 1977 Chinese collection that coincided with the launch of Opium. Why? "Instinct," he said. "I felt the pagoda shoulder was right. And it was a period I hadn't mined."

So, the pagoda shoulder (albeit far more rounded and up-there than Yves's original squared pads) it was—as well as the opportunity for Ford to show what he can do with the concept of chic color clash. The opening look said it all: a crimson silk Mao jacket, a scarlet satin pencil skirt, and a pair of purple velvet wedges with wicked curved-in heels. Then came that shoulder, also with a slither of lingerie satin skirt, a twinning repeated in a series of color contrasts: turquoise with leaf green, poudre pink and grape, and so on.

Ford worked the chinoiserie theme in many keys: subtly, in furs shaved in the pattern of dragon's scales; or full-on, in a tight jet beaded jacket as shiny as a lacquered cabinet. It became both more delicate and sharply sophisticated with the eveningwear. Fragile cheongsams came many ways: fitted sleekly to every curve, in nude silk with an erotic fluff of fur tracing the fastening, in cut-out embroidered lace, or as a full-length cascade of red chiffon flounces.

The designer also pared away the famous Saint Laurent smokings to become nipped one-button jackets with a deep luxurious wrap of black satin collar. It was the finale dresses that will likely prove the lasting image of Ford's leave-taking, however. Vividly patterned, totally sequined slink-gowns, they slithered along the runway trailing the kind of Hollywood glory for which this man will surely be remembered. Until, of course, his next act…