The invitation—charcoal-gray with a line of red stitching—established the parameters of Véronique Nichanian's new collection for Hermès. "Burgundy and gray are a classic combination," she pointed out after the show. That didn't quite tell the whole story, though, for the designer was quick to add, "But I like to focus on something more creative." In other words, her real goal was to see if she could transcend the strictures of her self-imposed palette.

Certainly, her use of the house's signature luxe fabrics livened things up. It's a wonder what crocodile can do for an item as overexposed as a blouson, especially in red. Likewise, gray lambskin turned a topcoat into an object of desire. But if the skins were the showpieces, gray flannel was the foundation. As the umpteenth outfit in cloud, lead, or charcoal made its way down the catwalk, the conclusion was inescapable: Gray flannel simply doesn't sing.

Still, the designer amped the volume up a little with the newly trim silhouette, or by throwing a jacket over a black cashmere V-neck for a look that flirted with being sexy. And fortunately, she had all those reds to play with. Jeans in vermilion velvet practically vibrated. A red sweater over a garnet turtleneck was more sober but equally welcome. And Nichanian's prints—particularly the wild horses galloping across a silk shirt—offered further relief from the gray parade.