Lanvin closed the spring collections with the strongest marshaling of purposefully honed modernity Alber Elbaz has ever sent down a runway. Ditching the surreal, fifties-flavored illusionism of his last collection, this was a personal departure, with the emphasis on linear pantsuits, high-tech gleam, and real-world usage over his more familiar fuzzy-focus romanticism. More than that, Elbaz's highly specific version of futurism (or, rather, looking at things as they are, right now) seemed like a comment on the corporate-versus-creative conflicts that have been scattering fashion all over the place this spring. "When you're stuck, you go romantic," is how the designer put it. "With freedom of spirit, you can go further. I wanted to touch technology, engineering, silicone, nylon, metal, and plastic. And a new place for the pragmatic."

Elbaz works for a relatively small, privately owned label (thus the "freedom") but has a disproportionately large influence in driving fashion one way or the other. So when Lanvin shoots for a tougher, shinier, more high-powered vision of womanhood, it's a point of view that will be taken in parallel with the ideas from that other small-but-roaring powerhouse, Balenciaga. In Elbaz's hands, it wasn't so Robo-woman; more a matter of a dozen workings of futuristic Greek draping with athletic multistrap racer backs, along with leather or metallic skinny pantsuits with a flying-uniform edge, and parachute silk zipper-detailed shifts and trenches in acid yellow, pink, or pale khaki.

Still, the real difference here was that—apart from a couple of too-literal, spacey moments—Elbaz didn't project his woman fully into a brave new world. He is one of the few designers who seem to remember that we are still earthlings who serve in offices and quite like (once past 25) to get out at night in something other than a baby doll. This collection, with its lean tailoring and its plethora of crunched silk or slithery, form-skimming silk or charmeuse-draped dresses, made either reality look like a pleasurable proposition.