There have been times when Ann Demeulemeester's womenswear has been inspired by real-life poetesses, artists, adventuresses. The clear, forceful vision shaping today's show felt like one of those times. So, Ann, who was the real woman behind this collection? The designer paused for one perfectly timed beat, smiled, and answered emphatically, "Me." Of course. Who else? No poetess needed: This particular lineup of clothes was such quintessential Demeulemeester that it was practically a manifesto. "I made everything I like," she said. And that meant, in a word, duality. Black and white, male and female, fluid and constructed, fragile and strong. All of it rolled together in one polymorphous package.

If Demeulemeester has toyed with the ethereal of late, she earthed her new designs in heavy, laced-up boots. Her signature, solid layering of short-over-long waistcoats, jackets, and coats will always suggest highwaywomen and Napoleonic army deserters in equal measure, but here even the longest, floatiest pieces could have garbed both princess and parish priest equally well for martyrdom—the purest picked out for death by fire. The smudged-eye makeup hinted at the penitence of Lent. There aren't many—any?—designers who can curry such flights of fancy, but there also aren't any other designers who set the mood of their shows with Nick Cave crooning, "They've hung the mermaids from the streetlights by their hair." That image alone was enough to incline you toward a fin de siècle scenario for Demeulemeester's presentation. But if it was to be a last stand, the designer sheathed her women in obis and breastplates of stiff black leather, the poetry underpinned by a core of tough resistance: "What we need today," she declared.