Leave the 180-degree turns, the frantic grasping for new ideas, to other designers. Ralph Lauren delivered one more in a line of self-assured collections today, and even better, proved he still has the power to surprise.

Returning home from last season's jaunt across North Africa and India, this urbane show began with suits—the first was long and lean, with a closely fitting, cropped double-breasted jacket and a skirt in the slim, three-quarter length that now looks fresh again. From there, he took the season¿s knit-dressing trend in a new direction. First, classic cardigan coats in hand-knit metallic tweeds cut a reliably elegant figure. Then—and here's the surprise—he whipped up strappy little cashmere dresses with short, kicky skirts. They had real youth appeal. The nipped-waist shape was echoed elsewhere in the collection—in slim turtlenecks worn with dirndls; in a chocolate flight jacket and matching flaring skirt; and in a couple of great-looking coats. These were slim on top and full to the knee, and the best one came in the antiqued gold that was the only flash amid the blacks, browns, and grays.

But in Lauren¿s world, after-eight dressing will always call for something sinuous. This season, that meant a pair of exit-making black gowns, one with a giant bow at the lower back and another with an organza ruffle from nape to ankle. Along with a daring, plunge-front dress in burnished gold lamé, they were surefire hits.