The desert was the inspiration for Valentino's spring couture, which he sent out against a vast projection of hypercolored sand dunes and sky. Of course, the collection had nothing whatever to do with rough nomadic wanderers. What the designer seemed to have in mind was the sense of weightlessness all that heat can produce, hence the parade of light, fluttery, oh-so-feminine clothes. Valentino is one of the last masters of couture who knows what draping is all about. He can whip silk chiffon around a bod and into flying panels, quivery ripples, and filmy, flippy hemlines like no one else. And his finesse with beading on tulle—say, on the front panel of a curvaceous white dress—makes others' attempts look coarse by comparison.

The fact that old-school technical wizardry still exists is something to be marveled over, of course. Whether the woman still exists who is cut out for such a genteel, highly wrought way of dressing—for wisteria polka dots, apricot silk, and cream suits—is another matter altogether. It all makes for a lovely spectacle, in a nostalgic way, but a bit of a frustrating one, too. With a tweak here and an edit there, it's possible to see how someone with Valentino's enviable array of skills might floor the competition with a slightly looser, less "done" version of prettiness that would be ravishing for the young woman of today.