From a bombed-out beach to somewhere over the rainbow in less than six months. Since his last turn on a New York runway in September, Marc Jacobs has left his post as creative director of Louis Vuitton, a job he held for a decade and a half. He's a full-time Manhattanite again, with a possible future IPO in his sights. Tonight, as everyone in the venue or watching the live stream knew, was a big moment for Jacobs.

The Stefan Beckman-designed set more than lived up to the high bar the house has established over the years. Suspended from the Armory ceiling were hundreds of pillowy Magritte clouds you could almost reach out and touch. Slice of heaven, silver linings, cloud nine—the Instagram captions practically wrote themselves. On the surface, at least, the vibe was a hell of a lot more serene than last season.

The clothes echoed that mood. "It's all a pose," Jacobs said when we told him so backstage. "What do you do after you've trimmed everything with every bead, sequin, bow, and black bit of tassel? You come up with something that comes from a very powerful place, but in a fresh and soft way rather than an aggressive way." This wasn't minimalism, though. It began with reduced shapes in restrained fabrics: a scoop-neck tank dress in double-face wool paired with matching pants, a clingy mélange knit V-neck accompanied by ribbed leggings that pooled over the tops of comfy sneakers. Like loungewear for some next-level spa or health clinic—a feeling that was heightened by the models' fabric headbands and matching razor-cut bobs. As the show progressed, Jacobs slowly added demonstrative pieces in more lavish materials, crescendoing with hand-painted organza ruffles on a strapless dress and dense crystal beading on a swirl-print tunic and flares with a lean, 1960s look. His shearlings, dyed in sunset hues, will go down as best-in-show in a week that offered plenty of choices. The chain-strap bags looked luxuriously efficient.

From beginning to end, it was all neutrals and soft pastels. Partly for that reason, it didn't bowl you over in that hyperkinetic way some MJ collections do. Instead, it worked a subtler kind of magic, almost a narcotic pull. The soundtrack certainly tunneled its way into your consciousness. It was Jessica Lange performing a spoken-word version of "Happy Days Are Here Again," the Depression-era song that Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland famously reprised in the sixties. You couldn't quite tell if Lange was trying to convince herself or the audience. Either way, by the end Jacobs had made us believers.