Guests at today's Meadham Kirchhoff presentation entered the show space to the strains of Ravel's "Bolero." One reason that piece of music is so earwormingly familiar is that its central melody is repeated no fewer than 18 times; neurologists have suggested that the composition itself is pathological. Apparently, Ravel's brain was degenerating as he wrote. Ed Meadham and Ben Kirchhoff may or may not have been aware of that factoid, but at any rate their musical selection was apt—to the extent this collection was "about" anything, Meadham noted after the show, it addressed the obliterating effect of an endless quest for perfection. This season, in other words, Meadham Kirchhoff slammed the door on its brand's brief jubilant era.

There were no dancers here, no disco aliens and no spangles or pastel-colored bows. What there was—in the very first look and several to follow—was a broad strip of black vinyl, as suggestively suppressive as a censor's black bar. The vinyl was used even more emphatically elsewhere in the show—one look paired a cropped vinyl jacket with a matching skirt frothed with laser-cut vinyl lace. The technical achievement alone was remarkable. The collection's velvet pieces had a very different texture than did the vinyls, of course, but a similar sense of oppressing weight.

It wouldn't be fair to call this collection joyless. It was too beautiful and moving for that term to fit. Better to describe it as a song of despair, with anguished crescendos punctuated by verses melancholy but unexaggerated. The oddest thing about this show was that occasional straightforwardness—looks such as a silvery brocade coat and gold-flecked black jacquard pants corralled the signature Meadham Kirchhoff expressiveness into clothes pared down and relatively frank. You might even say they were commercial. And with that, the Meadham Kirchhoff world proves once again a very strange place.