"After last season," explained Alber Elbaz, "we sat in the studio and asked ourselves, 'Where do you go after futurism?' And someone said to me, 'You want to go home.' So then I went back and started looking at Jeanne Lanvin's sketches again." What Elbaz came across was a sheaf of illustrations of Lanvin's wide-shouldered thirties gowns and that was enough to set him off on a path of intense cutting research, which led to one of the strongest advances in modern dressing to come out of the Paris shows. "It's all in the sleeve," he said.

Technical construction details sound dull on paper, and too often designerly innovation ends up beyond the realm of the sanely wearable. But in pushing his broad-shouldered look, Elbaz applied both scissors and his sensitivity to most women's morbid fears about its last go-round, viz., the Sue Ellen eighties. His solution is an aerated shoulder volume without pads, something akin to a leg-of-mutton, but actually without historical precedent. It came on washed duchesse-satin shifts, belted jackets, techno-nylon coats, and a delicious ivory charmeuse blouse.

That striking silhouette formed the core of the collection, but Elbaz didn't leave it there. His other contribution to the growing desire for concise but luxurious design (we have to think of something to call it other than minimalism) was in dresses that were sexily wrapped from single lengths of fabric. Often deceptively sober in front, they draped through the hip and got caught up in back with an asymmetric frill running the length of the spine, or turned to show a little upthrust scroll of peplum in the small of the back.

As for the out-and-out-luxe side of Lanvin, which so many women adore, Elbaz had that well covered. Some of his rigorous sleeveless dresses had the darts and seams picked out in jewels, and then there were the furs, ingeniously calculated to deconstruct into separate vests, scarves, and techno-look undercoats. This is smart thinking from so many angles that its true ingenuity can only be appreciated in front of a mirror in a changing room. And that, really, is how Alber Elbaz likes to speak to women—rather than from the lofty vantage point of the runway.