He wanted to break the mold, do it his way, shun the catwalk circus, but in the end, Tom Ford was a victim of his own success. By the end of next year, he'll have more than 100 stores around the world. You simply can't stimulate that size of audience with the intimate, über-controlled presentations the designer has been staging for the past few years. You need Flash! Bang! Wallop! What a Picture! And so, Ford returned to the global fashion stage tonight aiming to give us exactly that.

The aristocratic splendor of Lancaster House may have been more awe-inspiring than past venues, but some things were the same as they ever were, like the chiseled honor guard and Brobdingnagian flower arrangement that greeted us. And the place reeked of Tom—or rather, Tom Ford Noir. Preservationist palace protocol forbade anything airborne to scent the atmosphere, so Ford simply soaked his army of attendants in Noir. Human diffusers—every home should have one.

With the scene so impressively set, it was intriguing to find a "cross cultural multi ethnic" promise printed on the piece of card that awaited guests when they sat. That seemed somehow humble in such a grand context. But the outfit Liya Kebede wore for the first exit immediately put paid to that delusion. Yes, her top could be construed as a variant of kente cloth. And yes, there was something Inuit about the thigh-high boots. And the beaded flowers on her skirt might have roots in tribal handiwork. But it was scarcely NatGeo that came to mind with her ensemble, or any of those that followed. The cultures that crossed here were glam and disco, Pop and Op, manga and Marvel. Even the most "sober" pieces, like Karlie Kloss' extravagantly fringed leather poncho or Nadja Bender's patchworked mink, had a cartoonish verve. Ford himself mused on the thin line between good taste and bad taste that he was walking. "I don't think it crossed over," he said. Some viewers will no doubt disagree. But what if it did? Unabashedly exalted excess can have a charm that is as hard to fight as the big KA-POWs on Ford's eveningwear.

In the collection's OTT essence, you could sense some defiance on Ford's part. After all, he's back in a race he wrote off as "rat" seven years ago. But damn it if he's not going to try and do it his way, one more time.