Just before the finale of the Armani show, the theater was plunged into darkness and filled with the sound of an Italian man laughing maniacally. It went on for some time. What was that? Could it have been Giorgio Armani himself, splitting his sides backstage at the thought of the bloomers he had just visited upon womankind? At any rate, the interlude provided one tenuous explanation for everything that went on below the belt in his fall collection: bloomers, narrowish in velvet by day; bloomers, puffed up into a taffeta bifurcated bubble by night; plus a few Bermudas with fluted frills at the knee thrown in as an alternative.

If only Mr. Armani would just reconcile himself to some regular trousers (those straight, two-legged, ankle-length things we all find so difficult to source, please), all could have worked out very satisfactorily in this show. Unarguably, there's something fine in the way Armani continues to develop his 30-year expertise in jackets. They were there in full force, looking fresh and supple in every variation from zigzag gray wool, to one-button velvet blazers to minimal military Spencers. These, and his fit-and-flare and swing coats, are clearly his core attraction. Quite why he persists in diverting attention from them is a conundrum.

Perhaps Armani is reluctant to revisit the place where he started. Certainly, his drive over the past decade has been to prove that he can be someone other than the genius who bestowed fantastically liberating softened men's suits upon eighties working women. But he won that argument years ago, by beating every other designer to the forefront of Hollywood red carpet dressing. The long mermaid dresses from his new couture collection have been siphoned off the ready-to-wear runway, in preparation for their imminent Oscar appearances. In their place, he ended this show with a series of short crystal-beaded evening looks (mercifully sans bloomers), but even they couldn't make up for the mystifying absence of a single viable pair of pants.