At every Giles Deacon show, there are two types of attendees: those in the inner circle who get it, and those who aren't, who look on disguising puzzlement behind fixed smiles. If you're a Giles in person, you see a young designer aiming to outfit an older customer in respectfully couture-ish clothes, and are thrilled that he can pull Linda Evangelista, Stella Tennant, and Shalom Harlow to walk for him. If you're an out person, you spend the show wondering what kind of woman—older or younger—would really wear these clothes, and fretting over the skills he has at his disposal.

This season did represent a stylistic shift, at any rate. Dropping the flowy, slightly glam-rock seventies references of his first couple of collections, Deacon reversed into the sixties and its cleaner, pared-down silhouette. He showed leggy Cardin-like shifts in heavy silk, updated with sporty zipper implants and paired with flat sandals, and the occasional silk cagoule, but then mixed that graphic statement with fancier, draped cullings from the legacy of Madame Grès.

His starting point, he explained, was the work of Colin Self, a painter who created on the cusp of Pop Art in the sixties and whose canvases record that odd moment when mod looks coexisted with trad dressing. An interesting source, but something stalled in the leap to the runway. It takes magic fingers to drape and mold a figure like Madame Grès. Deacon's approximations, fixed onto stiff, conical corsets, made his models look like they were trapped inside inverted 1950's lampshades.

Deacon's better moments came when he didn't try so hard: a little bustier dress in navy doupioni that hugged the waist and flared into a short skirt, or something soft in kelly green silk, fastened with fabric flowers at the shoulder. Individual dresses from this collection will undoubtedly look good on magazine pages and at the odd offbeat special occasion, but that doesn't solve Deacon's central issues. Either he needs to acquire a fully fledged skill set to pull off this "couture" work properly (hardly the easiest route in London), or he needs to get over the "lady" thing and start watching what women his own age want to wear.