Watching a Yohji Yamamoto show is something like listening to a lengthy jazz improvisation—by a Japanese musician who's also into Western classics. His spring show was constructed, and deconstructed, around two templates: crisp white cotton shirting, and Grecian pleating inspired by the great Parisian couturier Madame Grès. The opening look established both: a barefoot model in a long cotton shirt-gown decorated with a streak of pleating that fell from a rosette on one breast.

It was a meandering journey between that and the impressive, elegantly twisted black silk plissé eveningwear that closed the show. First came some austere zippered knee-length glazed-linen dresses with mesh-and-patent sneakers. Then followed many variations on his familiar black pantsuits, now done with sweeping portrait necklines and asymmetric baggy, drop-crotch trousers. (Admittedly extreme, but a nod nevertheless to trends that have been building in more mainstream collections.)

Passages in geranium red and dusty sage came and went as Yamamoto essayed various ideas about tunics and pants—sometimes fused into a single garment and lightened with lace inserts. But just as the tune seemed in danger of losing its audience, he circled back, developing the Madame Grès thought in a spectacular way. Densely packed pleats, sometimes braided, were wrapped and coiled into décolleté bodices, then set free to fan into elegant loops and trails. Filtered through an admiration of fifties' grand couture eveningwear, it was an innovative ending to an extended riff on modern femininity.