Combining '50s notions of jet-set elegance with couturelike fabrics and exquisite ethnic references, Miuccia Prada triumphantly opened Milan fashion week.

Set to a dreamy instrumental soundtrack, Prada's show began with tailored navy skirts, trousers with built-in, low-slung belts, silvery lattice-print shirts, and kittenish Sabrina heels. Then came an exquisite homage to vintage Chanel, with belted, gold-threaded bouclé dresses—just the kind of stunning little outfits Romy Schneider would have sported in the early '60s. Prada's pajama-style chemises with Turkish motifs projected nonchalant, understated chic; the pin-tucked frilly tops and skirts trimmed with a vertical ruffle strip referenced fashion's infatuation with all things romantic, but steered clear of clichés.

As usual, Prada saved the best for last. In contrast to the dour palette that many designers have adopted lately, her runway positively dazzled. Nude tops and dresses were layered with lightweight, shimmering knits; paneled, imposing skirts glowed under crinkled gold tops and coppery brocade jackets. The result? A vision of bygone splendor that never devolved into gratuitous flash.