On paper, the marriage of designer and venue looked ideal: J. Mendel at the Plaza. Extravagant furs and glamorous gowns in a historic setting—how much more upscale can you get? Quite a bit, it turned out. Not only is the Plaza still a construction site, but Gilles Mendel chose to show on an old-fashioned prêt-à-porter-style raised runway that obscured the sight lines.

"In this age of disposable fashion, I wanted to create a collection that is all about lasting quality and making women look beautiful," he wrote in the program notes. Fair enough, but the execution lacked focus. Showcasing beauty and celebrating craft without a strong point of view leaves the audience looking at a parade of clothes with little context in which to understand them. Mendel showed more fur pieces than he has in the recent past, but while luxurious, they were not necessarily innovative. A number of otherwise promising-looking suits were burdened by two-pocket peplum belts.

There were moments when Mendel's workmanship made its presence felt. It was visible in spades in a series of micro-pleated gowns, as well as in the first-rate dusty rose finale number whose elegance matched that of the gilded ballroom.