Yohji Yamamoto jumped an audacious three months ahead of schedule to present his spring ready-to-wear collection the day before the Paris couture shows began. He explained the break with tradition by saying he “wanted to show in silence, with less people.” In this case, those people included Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Azzedine Alaïa, Martine Sitbon and the filmmaker Wim Wenders.

In the opulent, gilded surroundings of the Paris Opera, Yamamoto unfolded a show that was indeed couture-like—filtered through a modernist sensibility but tinged with a delicate romanticism. He began with royal-blue militaristic jumpsuits topped with army caps, some of which sprouted veils of tulle that referenced the hats of the 1950s. That made way for a parade of tailoring, always in black, which showed the designer’s fascination with discovering new volumes in empire-line jackets and coats with neat raised shoulder lines and portrait necklines. These were brought down to earth with wide pants and pointy, mannish flats.

It was Yamamoto’s eveningwear, though, that continued the designer’s career-long East-West dialogue—an obsession with the heritage of couture that dates back to a visit he made to Paris as a hungry student in the 1960s. His little black cocktail dresses, with sheer panels in front or back, flowed on the body with a tantalizing, offhand sexiness. His versions of the grand gown came as bustier dresses, sometimes with a twist in the sculpted bodice, anchored here and there with asymmetrically fastened silver chains or bone necklaces.

On the 20th anniversary of his first Paris show, Yamamoto’s collection was both a confirmation of his stature as a grand master of design, and a testament to his restless, nonconformist questioning of the way things have to be done.