Giorgio Armani—and not a pantsuit in sight? That was one surprise Armani delivered in a fall show that was consistently focused, not on the work options he nailed years ago, but on evening, in all of its guises. Operating on the understanding that real life isn't one long red carpet, and with the pragmatism Armani is famous for, the collection worked methodically through appropriate solutions for every tricky event on the calendar: after-work drinks, semiformal dinner, corporate entertaining, all the way up to the full-on flashbulb event.

Armani started by reworking his signature windowpane-check jacket into a short, nipped-waist shape worn with a gray satin skirt and high heels. That silhouette—covered but decorative on top with something slinkier going on below in the style of 1940's Hollywood—was played out in many ways, some more extreme than others. A few of the looks, with peaked shoulders and, say, a spotted emerald-and-purple dévoré draped skirt, paid a passing reference to the colorful side of eighties fashion from which Armani abstained during his power-suit years. A bedazzling satin and crystal-beaded nude number that nodded toward Bob Mackie was one more step into the unexpected.

Armani rounded off the collection with sparkle. There were many variations of the crystal-embroidered evening dresses that helped establish his pioneering relationship with Hollywood's A-list years ago. The show ended on home ground, then, but again there was the feeling that the designer has entered a more playful space. Perhaps this so-called somber personality is capable of teasing, too: Though many have complained about his egregious cocktail hats, he keeps showing them, regardless. He ended with a pink fluorescent sprout topping a fuchsia-toned crystal gown that could've only been a private laugh at his audience's expense.