Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring stared out from Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli's mood board this season. At a preview, the Valentino designers were making connections between what they called the severe yet sensual portraits of the Dutch masters and their exquisite new collection for Fall. "We wanted to capture women in a private moment," Chiuri said. "In this show, the face is very important"—as it was for Vermeer and company. Making a study of white collars, Chiuri and Piccioli added them to many of their familiar looks. The collars came in laser-cut leather encrusted with beads or in "Calvinist" plain cotton piqué, and they decorated the simplest pieces, like long-sleeve A-line shifts in wool and short alpaca coats, as well as more ornate creations, including a tulip embroidered lace gown, and another elaborately traced in a Delft ceramics pattern.

Severity may seem like an unlikely scenario at the new Valentino. The designers' lovingly and luxuriously embellished creations have revitalized the house, which is celebrating its new David Chipperfield-designed store on the Avenue Montaigne tonight. Unlikely or not, though, a modicum of severity is the clue to what made this show feel new, and winningly so. While perhaps less spare than those Vermeers, there was an appealing austerity to a sleeveless dress in ivory and grayish blue, a strand of large pearls circling its collar. Likewise, a pair of evening dresses, one red and the other China blue, were starkly beautiful, the only embellishments their regal portrait necklines.

This is Valentino we're talking about, of course, so in the end there was no lack of intricacy in the details. There were gowns galore, many of unsurpassed beauty, and some too beautiful not to bring up. We're thinking especially of the Delft-inspired embroideries and a shorter Delft-like knit. But to prattle on describing them would be to defeat the point. They weren't the news; the austere grace was.