"Moody" was a magnificent slice of sound recorded in 1981 by ESG, three sisters from the South Bronx. Rick Owens had the song running around in his head when he was thinking about Fall 2014 for men, so that's what he called his collection. The men he was thinking of were moody cops, emblems of the authority that he—and millions like him—rejected in their testosterone-raddled youths. "Suddenly you're 50 and you're the authority," Owens said, with what would have been rue in anyone else. Authority can have connotations of dominance and submission. Which is how the art of Tom of Finland came to insinuate itself in today's collection, with the boots, belt buckles, and holsters of Tom's overripe macho men in uniform abstracted into the details of the clothes.

Those abstractions were much less obvious than the flak vests in duchesse satin that appeared later in the show, but their (implied) presence seemed perversely appropriate to a collection which, in Owens' telling, was heavy with symbolism: The black leather of brutal authority was, for example, balanced by the cashmere head wraps that symbolized benevolent nuns. They seemed to parallel some kind of internal struggle for the designer. "I'm talking myself out of punishing myself for not being perfect," he said. So in effect he is both dominator and dominated.

In the clothes, at least, there was less sense of schism. The collection's primary building block was a hybrid of a shift and a onesie in leather. The zip that ringed the backside undoubtedly offers convenience to anyone who is caught short, but it left the alarming impression of an overgrown fetishist's Babygro. Sometimes it was separated into a tunic and shorts, over big boots-cum-waders. Innuendo aside, it was actually a strong, sleek look, even sophisticated when Owens added heavy silk wraps in that Hollywood-couture way that is part of his lexicon. The wimple supplied a hint of the spiritual nomad.

But Owens has already been to that mountaintop. Today he was talking about "the need for some kind of graceful transition" between where he's been and where he's going. After a series of stunning, assaultive presentations in the Bercy arena in the east of Paris, he has moved west to show at the Palais de Chaillot. "Those shows had become so theatrical that the clothes were overshadowed and I didn't want to get stuck there." Meaning, presumably, that this is a return to a time when it's the clothes that will be speaking loudest. They definitely did that today. The trick was in understanding what they were saying.