If the scale of Valentino's anniversary celebrations helped to fuel the retirement rumors (it sure would have made one heck of a good-bye party), the man himself chose to address the speculation by doing what he's been doing best for the past 45 years: He designed a collection of such seemingly effortless luxe, calme, et volupté that it made the thought of a world without Valentino unlikely—no, make that impossible.

Sure, the ingredients were there for an elegy: an imposing venue a stone's throw from the Vatican (with walls covered by framed photos of past glories), a front row of his peers (Karl, Giorgio, Donatella, Tom, Diane), and a tear-drenched audience. But with this Fall couture show, Val skipped a laurel-resting meditation on his career in favor of a strong, sleek, and shiny take on the occasion dressing he excels at. He trimmed away the volume, allowing himself but a handful of fishtail gowns, and the same sense of editing applied to the color palette, which was notably restrained: black, brown, ivory, plum, and sage, with counterpoints of pink and the designer's signature red. Lamé added a subtle sheen in draped tops and skirts.

But if all that felt like a contemporary way to deal with old-school glamour, Valentino's mastery of classic couture embellishments—from embroidery to fur and feather trims—meant that opulence was never absent. A suit sparkled with threads of Lurex; another in an exploded houndstooth pattern was hemmed in a thick wool fringe; the bodice of a ruched lamé skirt was studded with multicolored stones. The expertise of the atelier was mesmerizing in an effect called "pages," layers of organza that fluttered like a stack of tissue paper as they moved around the hem of a skirt or the shoulders of a cape.

There are 45 years of evening extravagance on display in the exhibition that accompanies Valentino's anniversary. And yet what seemed significant in this collection's evening looks was, once again, what amounted to a kind of restraint for the designer: Take a long dress in black tulle with a sparkle of crystals, for instance, or a gown with a quiet cascade of pink ruffles. Given the significance of the milestone, it seemed reasonable to expect a blowout finale of Val red dresses. Instead came a handful of icy pink satin gowns, a cool, clear way for Valentino to let us know he's still got a few surprises up his sleeve.