Even when there's nothing in the room, Miuccia Prada can send a powerful signal. For fall, she'd stripped her show space back to its bare industrial bones, and so it was with the collection. "To go back to something structured, strong, and womanly, to strip back on stupid frills, print, and decoration" was how she described her quest. "But," she added, "even though we are talking about minimalism again, it cannot be sad and depressing."

Prada's opening declaration—a black wool Empire-line dress precisely seamed in a V under the bust and edged in lace at the knee—showed how skilled she is at navigating her way into a new mood. Tougher and darker, it still conveyed a shapely femininity—one that was concisely pulled together between the disciplined chic of a ballerina updo and a platform slingback. And dispensing with overdone surfaces revealed again what this designer stands for in terms of cut. Her top-seamed, sharp-lapelled, waist-defining coats, ballooning blousons, and swingy astrakhans showed an elegant command of volume gleaned from her lifelong obsession with couture classics.

Some looks, like the mohair V-neck sweaters, belted over narrow skirts and worn with patent opera gloves, referenced Prada's own previous work: the wearable pieces that make women seek out this label season after season. But she avoided nineties starkness with boldly modern roller prints on dresses and shirts, and quirky appliqués of crochet and passementerie on a series of coats. The magic is that none of this can be nailed down literally as retro or folkloric. And at a time when fashion is weary of theme shows, that's a quality that truly sets Prada apart.