Entering a BCBG Max Azria show, you're never entirely sure what you're going to see. Designers Max and Lubov Azria have given themselves the creative license to take their big-business contemporary line in whichever direction they might be feeling, whether that's avant-garde, bohemian, or ladylike.

But this season found the Azrias in practical mode. Backstage, Mrs. Azria explained that the Fall collection was her answer to the recession. "It's made us realists," she said. "It's not about our fantasy. It's about the customer."

On the runway, there were endless variations of a simple, sellable, and yes, chic idea: color-blocked silks in clean geometric silhouettes layered with whisper-thin black knit tops. Dresses had a T-shirt-level ease and often came cinched with wide elastic belts. The layering of lightweight pieces was another customer-centric strategy. These dresses, as Mrs. Azria explained, can be worn right away when the Fall delivery goes into stores—i.e., in high summer—and then can transition into chillier months.

All in all, a smart play for the bottom line. The Azrias did allow themselves to dream a little, though, with occasional lashings of sequins and pieced-in panels of sheer pleats. After all, all practicality and no panache would make fashion a dull industry.