Marios Schwab's father celebrated the female form in a straightforward way. He designed lingerie. But Marios himself has spent years exploring much more arcane options. His latest is a collaboration with Tunisian artist Nja Mahdaoui, who created calligrams—imaginary letters that look like beautiful but meaningless tattoos—to decorate Schwab's designs. They were the most striking elements in a collection that seemed to be all about framing the face and body as distinctively as fifteenth-century Dutch Master Petrus Christus did in the paintings that Schwab cited as an inspiration. When a designer says something like that, it can sometimes be cause for the kind of uh-oh moment that signposts the fact that his reach is just about to exceed his grasp, but in Schwab's case it was actually an appropriate cue for the grave beauty of the clothes themselves. The long-over-short proportion of beautifully cut capes and coats framed the body; the face was highlighted by a décolleté that was pristinely veiled or glistening with a patent-leather insert. And the body-conscious curl of the calligrams offered a curious, sensuous physicality.

Schwab is mesmerized by fashion's power to trick the eye. The nude-but-not Jean Louis gowns worn by Marlene Dietrich in her cabaret appearances have become a touchstone for him, reflected here in evening dresses embellished with shattered mirrors. They were a reminder that Schwab has become something of a red-carpet darling of late, an extraordinary development given the spooky, brainiac intensity of his work. True, those deep, dark colors and rich, strange fabrics lend themselves to the night, but maybe Schwab's acolytes are responding to some other call of the wild. Today he showed footwear that essentially combined a ballerina slipper with a shin guard in python. Kick-ass fragility felt like a career-defining hybrid.