On the day when he was finally able to realize his long-nursed couture dreams, Giambattista Valli rose to the challenge of tradition with a collection that threw down the gauntlet to anyone who would insist that this rarified métier is on its last legs. Valli celebrated the past when he used the white poplin shirtdress—the blouse de cabine—of the atelier worker as a building block. The most obvious example: the way he layered a black lamé tweed skirt over the "blouse." But if that combination of casual and couture felt like essential Valli, there were many more examples of the designer's ability to meld formality and—for want of a better word—fun. Try a cocktail dress that proceeded downward from a pink coral yoke to a crystal-ed black body to a hem of ostrich feathers. Or the coat-dress in oh-so-serious gazar that dissolved from a coral bodice to a skirt in lacquered lemon blossom.

Amid such sensual pleasures, Valli anchored the floaty and the flyaway, conveying the essential rigor of couture design with his animal-printed mousselines and monochrome florals. He even paraded a penitent, a woman in an ostrich-feather sheath swathed in a black lace veil. But, more to the Vatican-friendly point, Valli also proposed a shot of red, like Valentino before him. Perhaps it's no wonder couture-inclined designers from Rome love red. You could almost say it's by papal decree.