"People keep trying to divide designers into optimists and pessimists, but me—I'm a realist," declared Alber Elbaz. "I thought with my heart about what women need from fashion—dresses, suits, blouses, coats. Life isn't just parties and lunches." With this empathetic orientation, Lanvin for Fall added another dimension to the revival of Parisian values that are turning out to be the distinguishing feature of the best of this season's collections.

At first sight, there was something that evoked the forties in the abbreviated, sober chic of the dresses and suits that marched down a long concrete runway that had been doused with water to look like a regular, nonglamorous street. In fact, Elbaz's cutting, with its bias wraps, drapes, subtle knots, and bunchy bows, owes little to retro and much more to enabling a modern woman to go about her business in a tough time. A sense of presence and energy comes into it—the fierce economy of style that boils down to a simple-seeming waisted silhouette, black gloves, pumps.

Still, there is something here—and maybe this is the "Parisian" part—that refuses to sink into banal austerity. Elbaz's natural inclination is to make women feel happy—and that means sneaking plenty of sparkle into the seams from time to time, adding giant tubular neckpieces, and including considerately thought-out accessories like fur stoles sewn onto a loop, ready to pull on over…whatever. However, nothing at Lanvin ever comes at less than top price. In a tanking economy, that would seem to contradict Elbaz's stated aim to embrace "realism" and the generality of women's daily concerns. It all depends, though, how pennies are counted, how long clothes can be worn, and whether they're destined to be made obsolete by fashion within six months. With this collection, Elbaz deliberately built a defense against that lack of confidence, going back to re-do pieces (like the raw-edged charmeuse dresses) he first came up with five years ago. His message: What was good then is just as good now, and what's bought now can have just as much value years hence. In a year when all other financial investments look like a joke, a Lanvin one is as rock-solidly trustworthy as fashion can be.