Tensions ran high during a lengthy preshow wait for Jil Sander's highly-anticipated return to the runway. What would this former exemplar of nineties minimalism have to say to a world so drastically altered from the one she left three years ago? Would her reputation for rigor and abstract inventiveness still stand up? From her opening look—a delicate white cotton full-skirted dress with a tracery of sepia flowers printed on the bodice—it was obvious Sander has changed, but without losing herself.

Her many faithful followers were always attracted to the fact that Sander designed clothes for an intelligent female sensibility, creating a practical laundry list of those most-difficult-to-find simplicities: a great white shirt, wonderful sweaters, a well-cut pantsuit. Coming back with a collection that emphasizes delicacy and femininity isn't necessarily a contradiction of all that. "I feel I've grown up since I've been away," she said, "and at the same time, I've become really interested in the joyful idea of being a woman. Stepping out for a little to watch the world has made me feel lighter." That means good-bye to too much overwrought seriousness; Sander, like many of her working constituents, is conscious of the need to strike an emotional balance in life. But that hasn't shaken her belief in the integrity of the white shirt, or the perfectly-flattering V-neck sweater. It just means that what she puts with them now might be a crinkly semi-sheer silk skirt, or a refined version of a flounced petticoat.

Sander's legendary insistence on using experimental fabrics and techniques is still very much apparent in her use of print, which turned up here as paint-rollered effects on dresses, some with their seams inverted and pressed flat. Her refined taste was present too in the colors she chose: cloudy gray, watery lemon, pale sage, and matte gold amid the predominant white. Miuccia Prada and her husband, Prada head Patrizio Bertelli watched from backstage; afterward, Bertelli, who owns Sander's company, said, "It was a very positive, serene collection. It's wonderful to welcome her back to the family." A sentiment likely to be shared by Sander's loyal customers everywhere.