"Keep it light," Narciso Rodriguez said backstage. "Life is heavy enough." Apparently, last season's breakthroughs with surface decoration—the plastics, the metal appliqués, the embroideries—had left him wanting more of less. And even by his stringent standards, this was one pared-down—and, perhaps as an inevitable consequence, rather muted—collection.

Blowing up and otherwise manipulating his own digital photographs, he created subtle prints and embroideries that added depth to cutaway silk dresses. (As low-key as the prints were, they proved too overpowering for signature curved-seam suits.) Other cleanly sophisticated treatments included beading in concentric squares that decorated the front of a collarless coat, and silk cord that wrapped around the torso and asymmetrically over one shoulder of long dresses.

One of the show's few shots of color—in a smooth stream of black, white, cream, and gray—came in the form of a gorgeous emerald silk evening anorak. You could see that one out on the town…whereas a blue-and-black jacket in a similar shape but cut in a stiffer wool had too much of the football field about it. As he proved again with an elegant long black coat with sweeping new proportions, this minimalist is at his best when he's thinking urban (and when he's not letting the understatement undermine the drama).