Valentino's new rallying cry? "To stand apart from all the fake couture that has dominated the runways for the past few seasons." If that sounds kind of cocky, well, fair enough: This is a designer with four decades of experience under his belt, who's due to accept a Superstar award from the Fashion Group International this month in New York. More importantly, he's considering retirement, and the house has begun looking for a successor. His legacy is, understandably, on his mind.

Whatever his motivation, Valentino rose to the challenge, upping his already haute luxe factor and sending out a spring collection that was fresher and lighter than it's looked in a long time. On a V-shape runway, he opened with the kind of tapered and cropped-above-the-ankle black pants that were in fashion when he launched his house. These were paired with crisp white shirts and short black jackets or skinny white blazers, along with matte red lips and ballerina flats. The classic color combination carried over into evening, where the winner among many memorable efforts was a dress of black organza ruffles tiered to the floor with clouds of white organza for sleeves.

Valentino gave equal play to gorgeous color, which appeared in rose prints, and rich floral embroideries that captured the season's feel for Asian motifs. The single trademark red dress that closed the show came with one shoulder strap, in keeping with another recurring idea on the spring runways. His program notes may have alluded to perceived threats from the competition, but when it comes to jet-set elegance, Valentino has no rivals.