Costume National presents an interesting case study in the evolution of an image. Normally this involves the tricky transition from ultrahip label to fashion mainstream. Some designers occasionally return to their avant-garde roots to reclaim past glories; others meander along, each new collection sadly a case of diminishing returns. There is another way, though: Simply stick to what you're known and loved for, but work in some more au courant ideas, so that your designs signal now. If that approach works, you may no longer be white hot, but you'll have dedicated followers who return time and time again.

That's the line of thinking that Costume National's Ennio Capasa follows. For next spring, Capasa still believes in slickly tailored trenchcoats, biker jackets, and straight skirts, but he has polished them with safari-suit detailing (buttoned pockets and wooden-buckle belts) and African-style adornments (appliquéd strips of black-and-red patent leather that run along the seams, emphasizing the second-skin fit of his clothes). There were times when the theme was heavy-handed: Capasa's use of traditional Masai necklaces as straps on evening dresses looked cumbersome. It was when he introduced a softer, easier element—a long suede djellaba-esque dress under a safari jacket, say—to temper the more overtly sexual moments that the show fell into step with fashion's current direction.