The fact that his first model was carrying a miniature ladder, and wearing a sooty-black suede pantsuit with a jacket unfurling to a buttoned-up Victorian vest was the clue. This was a collection inspired, as Olivier Theyskens said, by "chimney sweeps. But more relaxed and very refined. A lot of black and gray—and the idea of climbing up to see the clouds above the city."

In other words, Theyskens is a poet at work, a Belgian poet to be specific: a young man well equipped to evoke the dark and edgy side of the fashion mood without losing sight of either pragmatism or romance. He did that by taking the colors of coal, smoke, and the fugitive shades of urban twilight to a collection that ran from skinny tailoring and boyish shorts to puffy-skirted cocktail dresses and airily textured evening gowns.

One of Theyskens' strengths is the way his confident, unhurried personal style allows subtle developments to unfold without reneging on the work he's already firmly established as Rochas signatures. Thus, the trouser suits he introduced last season are now appearing in new variations—sometimes with fitted vests, sometimes with narrow cuffed pants or double-layered jacket lapels. Meanwhile, he's refining his highly influential covered-up dress shapes, sliding in a long-sleeve ladder-knit sweater dress alongside black bobble-lace cocktail dresses with skirts stiffly padded to stand out from the waist.

Ultimately, what sets Theyskens apart is a uniquely nontheatrical ability to shade romance into realism, and if there's anyone who's responsible for the turning of the tide toward restraint, it's him. His evening gowns, with their sweeping, undulating petticoats, were a perfect example of that. Even though they had such presence, they were rendered with quiet simplicity, printed with roosting birds on telegraph wires, or trailing narrow scarves floating like ether from the shoulder.