Sometimes, Nicole Farhi surrenders to the summery South of France, where she grew up. That's when her clothes get all floaty, feminine, and indistinct. At other times, the heart of a soixante-huitarde, a radical chick caught up in the intellectual ferment of Paris in the 1960's, beats in her breast. Fortunately, this was one of those moments, because it meant her Fall collection came on strong from the instant a sleeveless coat in black patent—worn layered over another coat, this one in black wool—marched out onto her catwalk. The look was completed by leggings and patent booties. Next, Farhi offered a camel jacket, sleeves to the elbow, with a box-pleated patent and cashmere skirt. The combination of sheen and softness—part maîtresse, part petit bourgeois—was odd but appealing. And the designer maintained the dialogue for a while, with a coat in that patent/cashmere combo (like an upscale flasher's mac), followed by a wrap coat in camel. A funnel-necked sack dress in dully gleaming black cloque kept the dressy fetish mood aloft.

Then Farhi let a little Rei of moonshine into her collection, veering off into echoes of Kawakubo's avant-garderie. That explained the asymmetrical draping and bias cutting, which created strange volumes. The designer said she was looking for sculptural effects in her clothes (Frank Gehry's name came up), so there was clearly some rigorous thought at work. And it did pay off in the most rigorous pieces: a sleeveless dress in black macramé that begged to be worn at a brainiac cocktail party, another dress with the controlled chaos of black fringing going every which way. Farhi's clothes have never made a point of being glamorous, but here, she was truly mistress of her own brand of severe chic. The beaded tulle shift that closed the show glittered like dark stars.