"We used paper to research new shapes," said An Vandevorst backstage after the Spring 2004 presentation. "But we liked the effect so much we decided to use it in the show," added her husband and design partner Filip Arickx. And use it they did, opening with a simple brown paper mac followed by a series of increasingly complex concoctions in the same "fabric": a jacket whose sleeves were hoisted up with leather straps, a skirt with layers of jigsaw-puzzle pleats. The experiment was then echoed in more-accessible white cotton.

Super-luxurious materials may not be A.F. Vandevorst’s thing, but clever construction certainly is—and that needn’t mean stiff and complicated. Witness a pristine white cotton shirtdress, or a pair of super-skinny, zippered pants in the palest suede, or a simple chocolate canvas trench. A chiffon dress printed with plumes was, quite literally, as light as a feather; a pea-green jersey dress was sliced down the back to reveal a flash of bare spine. Even their print, in the form of an arty, abstract paisley looked—heaven forbid!—almost chic.