So normal, it's weird. That's the cumulative sensation that comes off Viktor & Rolf's ready-to-wear. This time, their straight-faced rendition of conservative Parisian fashion clichés was all about little black dresses, the French trench, the gray suit, and the crinolined Christian Dior evening dress. "We wanted a rigorous kind of elegance," they said in chorus. "But not soft. Like armor."

The armored propriety was emphasized, rather disturbingly, by the face coverings, which started out as fishnet veils and progressed into basket-weave fencing masks. Meanwhile, a sound piece by Bruce Nauman featured a woman's voice speaking words that expressed a state of emotional sterility. "Don't touch," she intoned, while romantic music played in the background. "No communication of any kind. I can suck you dry." As a statement of antisexual isolation, it was pretty chilling.

The air of art-house surrealism perhaps explains why the clothes were tinged with a literal stiffness of detail. In the first section, the pussycat bows, shirt frills, and flowered corsages on white-cuffed black dresses seemed to be made of some kind of bulky silver lamé. Later, the nipped-waist, circle-skirted trenchcoats, with furling collars and multipuffed sleeves appeared to have had their edges dipped in silver paint. They gave way to the dance-skirted cocktail dresses, one of which had a bustier as hard and metallic as a car fender. It was all, the designers explained, achieved by electroplating the fabric—a technique they'd borrowed from the European tradition of preserving baby shoes in silver.

That slightly queasy, mummified touch—and the old-school fifties posturing of the models—took this show back to Viktor & Rolf's roots in conceptual couture. Still, this is a ready-to-wear collection, and that's the conundrum. Performance aside, most of these clothes will read on a retail rack as nothing more sinister than an exaggerated form of hyper-normal ladylike chic.