At first blush, Duro Olowu's high-impact designs seem to be made for a very specific woman—someone high-powered who gravitates toward feminine shapes and bold, even eye-searing patterns. And indeed, for that woman, Olowu's clothes are catnip. But give his collections time to work on you and a more universal appeal reveals itself. Take the short flapper-y dress in his latest collection: Made of hand-pieced strips of printed silks, it's got a punchy eloquence that is unmistakably Olowu's. Let your eye adjust, however, and it's also a flat-out pretty party dress; some nervy starlet should try it out on the red carpet.

Olowu is well known for his mixed prints. But there's a method to his madness: His cuts are sharp, his silhouettes digestible, and the prints themselves are always combined in a disciplined way. This season, he achieved painterly results by going for more tonal print mixes, a strategy inspired by his obsession with the Egon Schiele painting Self Portrait in Peacock Waistcoat. The collection defaulted to shades of green and teal, with the palette girded by tones of brass, cream, and black, and spiked with hits of red and pink.

All that could still make for sensory overload, if not for Olowu's judiciousness as a designer, as well as his warmth. The warmth is an overlooked but unifying aspect of his work: He can do froideur perfectly well—witness his tailored black coat with daggered lapel, or the bias-cut black gown straight out of a Bette Davis picture from the thirties—but he'd rather be inviting. That coat, for instance, came in another, more memorable version, in color-blocked red and green striped tweed. It's a neat trick when a designer can simultaneously tamp down the formality of a garment and amp up its drama.