Time to cut Elie Saab some slack. When he first blew into Paris from Beirut to show his custom-made collection, he was borne up on a wave of curiosity caused by Halle Berry's red carpet appearance in one of his revealing gowns. Several seasons and a few critical drubbings later, interest ebbed, but now his clothes are showing promising signs of an upgrade in taste.

Plunging, garish, slit-up-to-there dresses have been replaced by a much more subtle series of special-occasion propositions. Of course, a client would have to pick and choose, but there are some gorgeous gowns to be found among the dense thicket of options.

One group—liberally bugle-beaded to resemble Art Deco antiques—looked slinkily sophisticated in a nonsleazy way. A raspberry crinkled-taffeta Empire bustier gown, tied in an offhand bow, was the first evidence that Saab can do young and simple. Another positive alternative to over-the-top evening was a silver beaded sweater worn with a swirling mushroom-color chiffon skirt—just the thing for an older woman who doesn't want to bare all. Viewed up close in the showroom, these pieces stood on their own merits and as proof of Saab's ability to develop and grow.