The fact that Giorgio Armani is working to set his Privé collection head and shoulders above his ready-to-wear is increasingly apparent. In a literal sense, he built up the collars of his opening daywear with face-framing furls and finished the look with forward-tilted toques—he's a man who can't resist a hat when flying at couture altitude. From there, the stylistic mood hovered somewhere between the enveloping Poiret coat and the precise, peaked-shoulder jacket of old Hollywood silhouettes, cut in complex zigzag patterns and tiny pleats.

In a more pervasive sense, though, the distinguishing move forward in Armani's collection was his ever-richer deployment of materials and technique, like a sheared mink made light with organdy insets, or a fan-pleated python trench. For a designer in touch with the lifestyles of the superrich in Asia and other far-flung regions where he's extending his reach, that makes sense. Nevertheless, this line is at its best on the territory he's already defined for himself—the place in the spotlight marked out for the singular Armani evening dress. When he's concentrating on minimally framing a woman's presence with one of his pale, strapless, scrunch-pleated, and draped gowns, the attraction of this collection is self-evident.