Scene of the fashion crime: the Sound Factory, legendary New York nightspot. Exhibit one: Orlando Pita's hair, a swirl intended to duplicate the tonsure of a boy sweat-soaked from dancing, warped with the long, straight tresses of the girl he was with. Exhibit two: Val Garland's makeup—icy swooshes, conveying a don't-care urgency.

That's how you create a fashion mood, kids. Or at least, that's how you make the casual New York mood that Giambattista Valli wanted. Just as he (and Orlando and Val) used to go dancing at the Sound Factory 20-something years ago, the Valli girls went way downtown with this show.

Now that he has a couture collection in which to indulge his most exquisite impulses, Giamba felt free to sharpen his edge. The first look—an oversize marled-wool sweater over cropped black pants—immediately established a more aggressive mood than we're used to from this designer.

A black-and-white graphic dominated the collection, interrupted only by hits of red and croc-stamped gold. Valli is so tuned in to the desires of his clients that one has to assume he was responding to their suggestions when he offered that big, chunky sweater. But it could only be his idea to later pair it with a chevron-patterned fur skirt.

Did it work? Valli is a client-driven designer, and his ever-faithful girls were perfectly happy that he'd given them something cool. The sequin sheaths that lurked underneath the chiffon veils of the evening finale? Well, that was one way to suggest the sparkly soul of the wearer. Still, the feeling nagged that Valli had shed his uptown skin without fully completing his downtown transition.