Tom Ford can take any one of dozens of nuggets of inspiration from the rich mine of Yves Saint Laurent's heritage—with a couple of caveats. First he needs to unearth something that resonates with the here and now, and second he has to forge it into something completely distinct from his work at Gucci. He did both those things for summer by dipping into Saint Laurent's pre–WW II surrealist phase.

"I think these are surreal times we're living in," said the designer, "but the references are subtle." He's right: his first look—a brown jacket with a silk rose at the bosom, paired with a coffee-colored knee-length chiffon dress—didn’t send any overt historical messages. The line of the shoulder may have been strong, but it didn't scream "'40s" or, for that matter, Dynasty-style '80s. Indeed, the muted colors, like soft lavender, champagne and coffee, and the jacket-and-soft-skirt combination seemed almost within the bounds of ladylike.

That is, until you got close enough to see the details. Some, like enamel lips and toenails on shoes, the print of a woman’s behind on the back of a skirt, and a trompe l'oeil wing pattern on an evening cloak, were relatively harmless—Dalí by way of Schiaparelli. Others, however, pushed the envelope a lot further. Ford put purple paint on the models' nipples, and cut jackets and coats like corsets, with a button planted on the tip of each breast. He also designed a black chiffon evening gown with an elongated keyhole surrounded with ruffles; framed in the opening was a small iron pendant, which, upon closer examination, turned out to be a penis.

This, then, was a collection that let Ford have it both ways. As well as guaranteeing himself headlines with scandalizing gestures, he slipped out a lot of uncontroversial clothes, including some—a beautiful little black dress and a couple of slim-panted tuxedos—that were real gems.