For spring, Alber Elbaz abandoned his concern with intricate surfaces and dainty jeweling. Instead, like several other designers in Paris, he went back to the drawing board of couture fundamentals in an effort to pull something modern-looking out of old-school methods. His particular focus for Lanvin was seamless draping, possibly the trickiest of all technical challenges. Elbaz also grasped at the slippery subject of slinky, thirties-era glamour—something that has emerged as a preoccupation of the season. Some of it worked, but not on every level.

The designer wrapped satin and taffeta around the body, with the edges of the fabric tied in loose, flat bows or emerging as bustles, ripples along spine lines, or asymmetric flicks flying out from the side of a dress. To emphasize the flow, surface detail was limited to two devices for holding everything in place: strategically placed hooks and eyes, and flat metal snaps. Edges were left raw.

The problem with this apparent simplicity is that it calls more attention to the aesthetic decisions made about color, accessories, and other intangibles of styling. Some of the dresses in silver or bronze sequins, with their twisted plunge necklines, looked effortlessly divine and right in step with the season. Ditto the pieces in lingerie-pale pink, coral, or peacock-blue satin. Yet Elbaz only demonstrated how hard it is to do charmeuse (and charm) when he brought on searing yellow, royal blue, or emerald, and his treatment of flashy gold sequins was equally jarring. What also escaped were crucial incidentals like footwear that can make a collection coalesce (knee-high black spiked boots, for example, clunked). Close up, there were many extraordinary items; but now Elbaz needs to mold and edit his technique to an image that's completely satisfying.