Amid incessant industry rumors—firmly rebutted by his bosses at LVMH—that he is about to leave Givenchy, Julien Macdonald staged a show meant to convince his critics that he has mastered the refinements of haute couture. For this make-or-break collection, he began by going back to basics, which for this house means the iconic clothes Hubert de Givenchy designed for Audrey Hepburn in the '50s. Macdonald opened the show with his renditions of two obvious choices: the little black dresses Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Sabrina.

But where to go from there? Clarity of vision—and the conviction to develop within a single genre—has always been a problem with Macdonald's couture presentations. Last season his show was all sexed-up razzle-dazzle, staged against the flashing neon lights of a downtown red-light district. During another season, he presented couture as if he were an intellectual deconstructionist. In an arena dominated by the work of visionary designers, it is this inconsistency that has audiences confused.

Following the Audrey-toned opening, Macdonald reverted to sharp tailoring with an aggressive feeling, which put it closer to the hard-edged '80s than the romantic femininity making news in Paris this week. There were mannish three-piece pinstriped pant and skirt suits, accessorized with matching oversize trilbies. One white military suit came with silver metal bars bolted onto the front of the jacket, a play on frogging that gave the impression of a caged torso. Macdonald also made an effort to employ the techniques of couture by using rope details, cutouts, broderie anglaise, organza and lace to display flesh and female curves. It was certainly his best shot at adult sophistication thus far—but in a city that is breathing lightness, delicacy and color, the hardness of the look seemed strangely off track.